The Bill Splitters

The waiter went around the table, each couple paid their part of the bill as was customary in the country where they live. It had been a boisterous night, the conversations about who had what were blurred with alcohol-soaked jabs and jibes. The waiter went around adding up each person’s meals and drinks, Peter and Brenda were last; we just pay the remainder then, easy!

Alex and Jemima drove home even though Alex was well over the alcohol limit for driving. Alex started the conversation Did you see what Peter did with the bill? Jemima had no idea, Alex continued after everyone paid their part, including tips, Peter paid the rest, he used all our tips to cover their half of their bill. Jemima didn’t understand, they were last to pay, so they paid what was left. Alex repeated, but everyone else paid extra, what was left was less than what Peter and Brenda owed. Jemima said, but didn’t Peter give a tip too?

Alex tried put it another way. Our bill was 56 euros for both of us, we paid 60 with the tip, their bill was 16 euros and they paid 20. How can their bill be 16 euros for 2 people? Jemima wondered about what they had ordered, maybe Brenda had a salad? Alex said salads are marginally cheaper than steak in a restaurant, you can’t get two for 16 euros. Jemima said well maybe the waiter made a mistake, it doesn’t harm anyone. The main thing is that we paid our bill, and did you get the receipt? Alex had the receipt, he would submit it as a working dinner and have the entire amount refunded to him even though he only paid part of it.

Yes we paid our bill, and we made a contribution toward Peter and Brenda’s bill. Why can’t you see that Peter has deducted everyone’s tips from his bill, the waiter only got the 4 euro tip that Peter left. Jemima replied no, I’m sure that everyone gave a tip, it wasn’t just us. It was hopeless, Alex wondered if he was too drunk to explain this, maybe he was the one who got it wrong. Jemima asked him if he thought they should add Peter and Brenda to their summer barbecue list, they seem nice.

Alex parked the car in front of the house, yes why not invite them, why not eh? Fancy a nightcap?

They went inside.

04 August 2021


See that snowglobe of the Windsor Castle? That was the first one, I don’t know why I said it, it just came out. Jimmy explained his souvenir collection to Olivia. It started with Emma when he was a student. He had told her the snowglobe was exactly like one he had as a child, he had loved it and then it was lost in a house-move. It was all a lie; it just came out before he had time to think about what he was saying. Elaine gave him the snowglobe. That was how it started. Jimmy then showed Olivia a metal coaster with an engraving of a flower on it, part of a set, which he had stolen from Lynn. A picture frame in which Diane had never got round to replacing the awful poster of The Eifel Tower that came with it. She had willingly gifted it to Jimmy. A felt paw-print that was a heat-resistant mat on his dining table used to be Anne’s heat-resistant mat. They were all mundane things, and you would never suspect they meant anything until Jimmy told the stories. And he loved telling the stories.

Olivia was disgusted, why did he have to re-count their sexual preferences? She’d been going out with Jimmy for three months. She thought of all the times she’d been here, not knowing she was sitting amongst the souvenirs of his sex life. She wondered what he would take from her, and what he would say about her. He hadn’t asked for anything so he must have stolen something. He would have done that already, it would be no use waiting until after they broke up, which was now plainly inevitable. What a horrid little man, he just wants sex and a memento, like a serial rapist, it’s not even about me, he never asks anything about me. Jimmy would never stay on any subjects around family, he would not talk about his parents or siblings for long. He never expressed any likes or dislikes. He held back anything that could be part of a meaningful connection. Olivia had noticed none of these shortcomings until he told her about the souvenirs.

It was Tuesday, Jimmy went to The Whitlock pub to meet his friend Liam for happy hour. Where’s the lovely Olivia this evening? Jimmy told him she had gone to her sister’s house and would stay overnight. They sat near the window; fire engines roared by. They’ll be going to the council estate, chip-pan fire probably. Jimmy and Liam had a chuckle. Happy hour was from 6pm until 8, then they had one for the road at normal prices. Jimmy was well over the drink drive limit, he dropped Liam off and headed home. Fear set in as he got nearer, he turned the corner to face the billowing smoke. The fire engines were at his house, spraying water. All the windows were blown, Jimmy felt sick. He approached a policeman and told him it was his house. Once the situation was deemed under control, they took him to the station. The firemen had said it looked like arson as soon as they saw it. An even blaze signifies a liberal use of accelerants, probably petrol. They asked Jimmy about enemies, suspects, motives, and they got nothing. Jimmy said he was popular, everyone liked him, he enjoyed life.

Jimmy went to Liam ‘s house, his wife Mia answered the door. He asked them both to sit down before he would tell his amazing story. Liam served wine, Jimmy recounted the evening and added the police haven’t got a clue, they’re questioning Olivia now. Why would she do it? I’ve been the perfect gentlemen to her, I gave her a key to the front door. Mia agreed, the little Olivia, the vegetarian, could not set fire to Jimmy’s house. It was more likely a burglar from the council estate who set the fire to cover his tracks. Liam said Jimmy would be the new Bobbit, like Wayne Bobbit, whose wife had cut off his penis and tossed it in a field. Jimmy told them it was just an internet myth; it had never happened. Mia backed him up, women don’t do violent things like men do, Olivia’s just like one of us, she couldn’t have done it, the police should be down on the council estate, knocking on doors.

Olivia ‘s interview was a formality, she said she was at her sister’s house at 7pm, the constable confirmed that the alarm was raised at 8:40pm. Both constables looked at the diminutive Olivia in her summer dress. When they offered her a coffee she said, no milk please, I’m vegan. They decided she could not be the arsonist. Olivia nodded at the inspector on her way out, silly sod with his beetroot nose, he want’s to lay off the sauce.

After the interview, Olivia went back to her sister’s house. She recanted her interview. Michelle pointed out that Olivia had come to her house after 9pm, she was unusually late. Olivia exclaimed oh shit! I told them the wrong time; I was supposed to be here at 7 but I was late watching that movie on the telly. Michelle agreed that it was a silly mistake and if the police asked, she would say Olivia was there at 7pm.

26 July 2021

Hits and Misses

Ian fiddled with his watch, he couldn’t get the step counter to synchronise with his smartphone. Mike teased him that the watch couldn’t handle any more connections while his wife was using it to track his whereabouts. Mike knew Ian was worried about his wife leaving him, they had been arguing a lot – more than usual. He had bought the watch to get in shape, for her. Mike also knew that Ian was distracting himself with the watch, telling himself he was making an effort. The effort he needed to make was to talk to her. Mike also knew she was having an affair, everyone knew. Was she hoping that Mike would tell his friend that his marriage was over? Mike didn’t like that idea. He didn’t like Ian that much, they weren’t proper friends, they were colleagues. After seven years working and drinking together, people just assumed they were the best of friends. Mike had never once asked Ian to join him for a drink. The concerts, the films, the football matches, all Ian’s ideas.

Mike had a frightening thought If Lisa kicks him out, I’m all he’s got. This boiled potato could turn up at my house one night, looking for a place to stay. He had to do something. The first step would be to find out who Lisa was having an affair with.

It was a dark and stormy night, Mike opened their wheelie bin, took a bag home and opened it in his garage. The flickering blueish light exposed the contents and smell of his friend’s domestic routine. Junk mail, credit card bills, a mouldy orange, a brand-new book entitled “Wait. The useful Art of Procrastination”, receipts, and a business card; Charles Thornton, Redmill Publishing. Lisa was a small business advisor at a high street bank, why would she throw away a business card? Something to hide? Then he found the bank statements, two withdrawals of seven thousand, one of six thousand. She’s moving money before springing the divorce. I suppose that’s how it goes; she must have seen a lawyer already.

Mike went onto an office networking website and found Redmill, eighteen staff where on the website and he had second degree contacts with two of them. He sent off a jovial email claiming he was trying to reconnect with his old friend Charles Thornton. They had never heard of him. A google search found thousands of Charles Thorntons, that was no help. He called the number from the business card, Charles answered, Mike panicked and hung up the phone. He had a feeling that he might have made a mistake.

Charles Thornton looked at the number on his phone screen, he called his contact at the phone company and got a name for 25 pounds, Michael Thompson. A few minutes on the internet and he had Mike’s address and social media pages. He made the connection with Ian and called Lisa. Charles demanded another twelve thousand, he said he would have to get rid of Mike too. Lisa argued that Mike was Charles’s problem, it wouldn’t come back to her. Things got heated, she agreed to five thousand more if he would get a move on. Lisa cursed Mike, five thousand pounds for that useless lump of lard. I could have had a spa weekend with that money; I could have had a week.

The last Friday of the month was always casual Friday at work followed by drinks at the pub. Lisa would join Ian and Mike and their colleagues and then the three would share a taxi to Ian and Lisa’s house for a nightcap. Mike would then walk home, it was a familiar pattern, this time there was a difference. Charles Thornton had been watching them. Lisa had forgotten most of what she had told Charles in their one meeting. Charles habitually extended conversations long after he had what he needed, Lisa would naturally only remember the parts that were most interesting for her. He sat opposite the pub and ate a ham and mustard sandwich. When he was finished, he left them to finish their evening and went to their house. He let himself in and waited.

Inspector Hartley arrived once the scene had been secured. He would be the lead investigator. The Constables on the scene filled him in; a classic love triangle, husband shoots the lovers and turns the gun on himself. The gun was there, in the Ian’s cold dead hand, which was still a bit warm. The neighbour confirmed that Lisa was having an affair. They did the routine forensic checks and went back to the station. By the end of the following week Hartley was in Superintendent Robertson’s office with the draft report. There were a few loose ends. The missing money from Lisa’s bank account, the neighbour’s claim that Mike was not the man having the affair with Lisa, and the business card in Mike’s pocket from the untraceable Charles Thornton.

Superintendent Robertson took the view that the neighbour was mistaken, as witnesses often are, and the money must be stashed away in preparation for a divorce. He concluded that only Mike could have told them who Charles Thornton was, there was no reason think he was connected to the case, and every case has a red herring or two. Hartley thought that Thornton was the secret lover, and he must have staged the whole scene, Mike was just visiting his best friend. Why would Thornton kill Lisa? Why did Thompson have Thornton’s business card? asked Robertson, citing William of Ockham – the simpler answer is the usually the correct answer; it’s a love triangle, plain and simple. On top of that, 95% of all murders are domestic, the victim knows the killer, it all adds up.

They agreed to leave these little musings of the final report, it looked like a job well done. The business card and bank statements were filed and archived. The town Mayor commended all of the brave officers and constables involved.

19 July 2021

I, Pornbot

After his divorce and a string of failed relationships, Bruce deleted all his dating apps, and cancelled his subscriptions. He gave up, he couldn’t see what he was doing wrong, he didn’t understand why his wife left him. He just wanted to be like everyone else.

Then he saw a news item about the banning of sex robots modelled on a five-year-old girl. Bruce had no idea that sex robots even existed. He went online and found the campaign group that had pushed for the ban. All the information was on their website, different sizes, manufacturers, retailers, prices. He found a site for customisable robots and went through the options, breast size, pubic hair colour, heated mouth orifice. It was like buying anything online, just mouse clicks and options. Then he looked at the ready-made robots, some were modelled on porn stars – he recognised one of them. Now he understood the sex robot, it was a Pornbot, made for re-enacting porn at home, no woman would do that stuff. Hours flew by, Bruce made four designs. One that looked like his wife, obviously. A younger, thinner one that looked like a singer from a girl band that his daughter liked, one that looked like a neighbour and one that looked like a senior colleague.

What am I doing? He looked at Robot Ivy, modelled on the Purchasing Director at work. He didn’t like Ivy, she was arrogant and pushy, he had designed the robot as a dig at her with no intention of buying it. Now he was mesmerised, this online system had drawn him into having his first sexual thoughts about Ivy the Purchasing Director. Any woman, no consent, no permission.

The next day, Bruce got a shock when he went online to check the progress of his order. His designs were all featured on the front page of the website! With their real names! He tried to contact Customer Service, it was hopeless, an endless spiral of premium phone lines. Robot Ivy was already dispatched. Over the coming days he convinced himself that no one would connect him to the designs, they had already been pushed down the listings anyway. Now he could see, there were no factory designs at all, they were all created by people like him. They were all real women who had no idea that their social media pictures had been used to decorate these elaborate masturbation tools.

Robot Ivy arrived, let’s be friends, she said with a childish giggle. It didn’t sound like Ivy and Ivy would never say that. But what if Ivy did want to be friends? Why had he never thought of that before? The conversation consisted of Robot Ivy using fragments of whatever Bruce said, prefixed with what is… or what do you mean by… She couldn’t move her arms or legs, this was clear on the website, he had ignored it in his haste. Ivy was clumsier than Frankenstein’s monster, and less articulate. Mary Shelley had written that story to illustrate her own struggles, being ostracised as a female writer, she was Frankenstein. Where is the progress? Shelley was teaching us about character, to look beyond the superficial and end discrimination, we’re just using it as monster building manual.

He opened a bottle of wine and looked at Ivy, he had never had a drink alone before. He remembered his daughter giving pretend tea to her dolls on the lawn. Shall I tell you a joke? Robot Ivy smiled through the heavy scent of Lucky Dragon Jasmine Honeysuckle Fragrant mixed with fresh silicone and polystyrene. He stared at her and drank his wine while she told her joke.

Bruce woke up with a hangover, he removed Ivy’s vagina, mouth, and anus, and took them to the bathroom. Ivy thanked him; this is fun she giggled. Bruce didn’t hear her, he was already tuning her voice out, How on earth am I going to dispose of 60 kilos of silicone and get those pictures off that website?

Then he got annoyed, human Ivy could sue him, but she wouldn’t be able to sue the company that made the website and the Pornbot. Why do random internet people just do whatever they want? They ignore the law, they don’t pay tax, and the government just nods along.

He arrived a little late in the office, Ivy the Purchasing Director was passing through reception Good Morning? she said cocking her head to one side and raising her wristwatch. Bruce was instantly transformed, he used to have a dislike of Ivy, now he was deeply terrified of her.

18 June 2021

Marla’s Legacy

08 June 2021

The will was read, she had left everything to Carmen, her nurse. The nurse didn’t appear at the reading, she knew this would be difficult. She had talked it over with her husband, her idea was to divide everything between Marla’s children and maybe keep a share for herself. Her husband convinced her to keep everything, Marla must have had very good reason to cut her children off. It was the right thing to do, it was Marla’s decision.

Marla’s children were 5, 6, and 9 when her husband abandoned them. She started making marmalade at home and supplying a stall at the farmer’s market. She soon needed to increase production. When Marla’s Marmalade was mentioned in a tv news segment on local produce, everything changed. In a few short years the Marmalade business became a Marmalade Empire. The children went to the ivy league schools and were given houses and various business loans when they came out. Eventually Marla’s Marmalade was sold to a food conglomerate for a fortune. Marla had no desire to see her children in Marmalade.

Damien, Tiffany and Eric were in shock. Damien and Eric started planning legal action to retrieve their legacy. Tiffany thought it best to let the boys fight this one, the only certainty at this stage was lawyer’s bills. She had her mother’s instinct for self-preservation and was the only one to understand that the Marmalade Empire was about self-preservation, not Marmalade. Damien and Eric, on the other hand, had obsessed over cost cutting and rival products. Now, Tiffany puzzled over her mother’s motives while Damien and Eric stomped and growled about treachery, revenge, and that damned nurse.

Marla had instructed her lawyers to defend Carmen. When Damien found out Marla had left a deposition with Damien’s own firm of lawyers confirming her instructions, he fired them. The new lawyers assured Damien that the deposition would never see the light of day.

The case came to court, Damien’s firm attempted a character assassination of Carmen. There were several immigration cases pending against alleged family members, one had a drugs conviction, another one had been fired recently for alcohol abuse. They capped it by alleging Carmen’s citizenship was under question and that she had associated with prostitutes and drug dealers when she first came to America, 20 years ago. Carmen was deeply troubled by having these things said about her in court. But she didn’t respond as the attackers had anticipated, she did not engage with these fabrications, and she did not crumble. In her mind she was back in the slums where they lived when they first came to America. Abuse was commonplace, she had learned to tough it out, she told herself they would stop when they had had enough.

The judge ruled that the will was sound and that Damien’s firm were lucky not to be held in contempt for their cowardly attack on Carmen. Damien vowed to appeal, with Eric behind him. Tiffany understood now. No matter what their mother did, Damien would have fought it. This way, Damien was still fighting but he wasn’t fighting his siblings. Tiffany looked at Carmen.

June Playlist

1970s Rock is a good summer sound, but the 70s wasn’t all Led Zeppelin derivatives and fluffy hair. There was also the introduction of Psychobilly as a darker sub-genre of Rockabilly. The Cramps started it in America, the first big name in the UK was The Meteors in the 1980s. You can find more detail on Wikipedia, and on this long Spotify Playlist (don’t click that unless you really like Psychobilly music, there’s a lot).

Back to the June Playlist :

  1. Necromancy – The Coffinshakers. A Swedish band who struggled in the 90s, gained a small following in Finland and had a minor resurgence some years later. The theatrics and Johnny Cash sound-a-like captures the genre for me.
  2. My Love for Evermore – The Hillbilly Moon Explosion (Switzerland). A fine example of the kitsch and fun side of Rockabilly, with a Psycho twist. The video on Youtube is a great mini-movie, don’t be fooled by the opening credits.
  3. Black Smoke Rising – Greta Van Fleet. Southern rock style band from Michigan. Three of the four are brothers. It’s a great sound, very Led Zeppelin. Hopefully, they will become more distinctive with time, they’ve got plenty of it.
  4. Stand Up – ACDC. Not so much time for them, hence a slower number. As ballad-y as it gets for this group. This sort of hard-rocking blues also came up in the 1970s.
  5. Can’t Take It With You – Allman Brothers Band. This is an actual 1970s song, enjoy. I first heard this song while I was working on this list. It was used as the theme tune to the BBC Radio 4 show of the same name, by top comedian Angela Barnes.
  6. Mine Forever – Lord Huron. This is a soft-focus end of the evening song, it sounds a lot older than it is. But isn’t this a romantic 2020’s song? Listen to the words carefully, and now imagine The Coffinshakers performing it. “In my mind your mine forever, In my mind your mind forever…” It could be the theme of a stalker meetup group.

A Song and Dance

A True Story.

I’m in a writers group. I had missed a meeting and they told me that a music producer had been there, looking for lyrics writers. I got the contact details and made an appointment.

I met with the record producer, a bitter, twisted old man. I was surprised to find he was my age, do I look like that? He complained about young girls that rock up to his studio, with thousands of ‘likes’ on Facebook, and expect to be turned into a pop star. No material, no band, no clue. Where do these singing knickers get their ideas?

The studio was in a disused office building, the sort of run down place amateur bands and artists use. He had a huge mixing desk, he said it was an analogue desk he had recovered from a place in New York, he used to work there. Look at this thing, tell me you can do this with laptop, these idiots with their Apple computers think they make music, it has no soul, no life. I agreed with him, I felt that it would be best to go along with whatever he said. I couldn’t really remember the way out, he lit up a cigarette. I prayed he would not offer me a coffee or anything. I might wake up in an ice bath with my kidneys removed. Then I remembered the writing group, how come no one pointed out that this guy is a psycho? They can’t have missed it.

Pop music and talent shows have killed real music. He was just ranting now. I wondered, If real music is dead then who are you making this album for? I kept that thought to myself, I told myself I can just churn out some lyrics, if he uses them I get royalties.

The sticking point came when I asked him to send me some tunes to work with. He was reluctant, as if I would steal his music. I’ve heard nothing from him since. Maybe he found someone else. Fine with me.

3 May 2017

The Marriage Lottery

I awoke on a park bench. There was a wedding party by the fountain, wedding parties usually came here for the picture shoot after the ceremony. I sat up and squinted to get a clear look at the bride.

Azores Lighthouse

I was engaged once, working in an office, free coffee, lottery pool, we had everything. It was a proud moment when I was elected to be in charge of the lottery. Little did I realise the lottery would be my doom. Pride made me do it, I should have left it to Carla from payroll, she had wanted it badly.

Every Saturday afternoon I would duck out during our weekly shopping trip to buy the tickets, 24 tickets between 48 people. Every week, the woman at the till would say ‘here he is, Billy Big Boots, your usual 2 dozen?’ we laughed. The queue built up behind me while she fed in the grids and printed the tickets. It was a ritual I enjoyed.

Then it happened, the big one. We hit the jackpot, only I didn’t see it. I checked the numbers as usual on Saturday night, we had 1 or 2 numbers on each ticket, 2 tickets had 3 numbers each. Then Jim called, he had picked three numbers and Cynthia picked another three. They made up one grid between them and the numbers had come up. I should have had the winning ticket. I didn’t.

I went over the events in my head. I had gathered all the emails and numbers into a spread sheet and taken a printout to the supermarket to fill in the grids. Then I used the same grids for the next 3 years and 7 months. Now I could see that I had put Jims numbers with Martin’s pick and Carla ‘s numbers were on the next line. 3 years and 7 months of joking with the lottery ticket lady. I had the wrong numbers all along. Technically it didn’t matter because the odds were the same for any combination. Carla screamed ‘This was the winning ticket! You bought a losing ticket! How can the odds be the same?!’ I couldn’t go back to work, one by one they came to our house and cursed us both.

My fiancée couldn’t take it. She asked me to leave, that’s what wakes me up, every night, every day. We were going to get married. For richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death us do part. We didn’t even make it to the altar.

I watched as the photographer directed the guests and took the pictures. Eventually they finished up and moved on, happily walking into the life I should have had. I wished them well.

21 May 2018

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