Tag Archives: romance

The External Interference Effect


To me, the solstice marks a turning point. Ushering in a new dawn, it is an opportunity for change. New beginnings. So today seems a good time to share a piece that was written for my local writing group, the delightful http://tunbridgewellswriters.org.uk/ as part of our Christmas project. This year’s theme came courtesy of the opening line of Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather.

“Everything starts somewhere, although many physicists disagree.”

Whilst some may find such prompts restrictive, to me this particular line is full of possibilities, allowing a writer license to explore virtually any direction they choose. To me it is, indeed, all about the potential offered by new beginnings. Happy solstice xx

Everything starts somewhere, although many physicists disagree.

But it was an ending currently occupying Michael’s mind. In retrospect Caroline’s departure should not have been a wholly unexpected outcome but it was not a permutation he had predicted. It was precisely this insistence on applying inherent reasoning to all aspects of his life that had, in the end, been the crucial factor in the failure of this particular experiment.

He, she said, always insisted on attempting to quantify the unquantifiable. And when this was not possible he was unable to respond appropriately within acceptable parameters. (Her words.) Quite what acceptable parameters are he was at a loss to define, but was beginning to suspect that a) she demonstrably did not adhere to the same standard criterion of data interpretation as he; b) an empirical logic-based approach was incompatible with the actuality of a successfully functioning relationship.

‘I hate doing this to you right before Christmas,’ she’d said as she left.

Yet what possible significance could the timing of her departure be on the outcome of the situation? He had, incorrectly as it turned out, assumed this would not be a differentiating factor. And although clearly this was impossible to accurately measure, somehow, it was. Seasonal songs provoked unexpected responses in his cerebral cortex. Jostling crowds in the shopping centres were more than just the usual annoyance. Groups of friends celebrating in pubs and bars stirred unexpected emotions; evoked feelings even. It was unfamiliar, unexplainable. So, he had done the only sensible thing and walked away from the hustle and bustle to the top of the hill to more efficiently process this strange and irrational phenomenon.

The bench underneath him was cold but he welcomed the discomfort, finding it sharpened his thoughts as he sought clarity. The gaping yaw of the dark common lay below him, the bright lights of the town a little further away. Those of a romantic disposition, Caroline for example, would probably describe the scene as like something on a Christmas card. But Michael instead saw the lights and the darkness as a pattern to decipher. He was observer rather than participant, and all would make perfect sense with the enhanced perspective that distance offered. All he required was this blessed solitude.

‘Shit, it’s freezing up here. Still, at least there’s somewhere to sit. I can’t walk another bloody step in these heels.’

Michael turned to the stranger who had intruded so abruptly into his contemplation, ready to utter a sharp response, but the breath caught in his throat. She had long black hair, pale skin, cheeks rosy with cold. Her short sequinned dress and thin jacket were entirely inadequate protection against the elements. Puffing in the chilly air, she rummaged in a plastic carrier bag on the bench next to her. Michael watched in stunned fascination as she pulled out a multipack of brand new socks and snapped the plastic ties with her teeth. Peeling off a pair, she kicked off the impractical heels and wriggled her delicate feet into the thick socks. They had clearly been purchased for a man, being far too large for her, but she didn’t seem to care and instead sighed with apparent pleasure and relief.

‘Ah, that’s better. Not elegant, I admit, but a bloody sight more comfortable.’

For the first time she appeared to notice Michael’s strained expression.

‘Sorry. Am I interrupting something?’

He wanted to say yes, to ask her to go away, but no words came out.

‘Okay, quiet boy. I’ll take that as a no. Drink?’

She pulled out a bottle of whisky, unscrewed the lid and took a deep draught before proffering it towards him. He almost declined out of habit but something made him hesitate and he reached for the bottle. Trying not to think about germs or the fact his mouth was in the exact spot hers had been just a few seconds previously he took a nervous swig. It burned, fire and ice at once, unfamiliar yet not entirely unwelcome.

‘I’m like a trusty St Bernard, bringing medicinal alcohol to those suffering in the snow,’ she said.

‘Drinking alcohol dilates the blood vessels and can induce hypothermia in freezing conditions. The notion these dogs carried kegs of brandy is a complete fabrication, due entirely to the extensive artistic liberties taken by Landseer in one of his paintings.’

She stared at him, incredulous, then shrugged.

‘That’s me told. And I suppose it isn’t snowing yet. Won’t it be lovely if we have a white Christmas?’

‘We won’t. The air pressure is all wrong. It’s going to rain.’

‘O-kay. And I suppose you wouldn’t enjoy it if it did, anyway.’

‘What makes you say that?’

‘Well, I’ve only known you a brief while but I’m sensing you’re not the type to bunk off work to go sledging or make snow angels. It would be a pain in the arse rather than fun.’

‘I can do fun,’ he replied, wondering if this was at all true. Caroline hadn’t thought so. Maybe her surmise had been correct.

‘Have one of these,’ she said, rummaging again in her bag before handing him a small object like a grenade.

‘What is it?’

‘A seed bomb,’ she said, as if it were obvious. ‘I bought them for my sister but let’s throw them down onto the common.’


‘So that hopefully in a few months lots of wildflowers will grow here.’

‘Don’t the council take care of the landscaping?’

‘This isn’t about careful landscaping, it’s about the creation of random beauty. And all this rain you’re predicting will get them off to a good start. Come on.’

She hurled her seed bomb down into the black abyss of the common below, then grabbed his arm. He flinched at the sensation, but it wasn’t entirely unpleasant as she drew his arm back and helped him throw.

‘There!’ she said, eyes blazing beautifully as she turned triumphantly towards him. ‘They’ll be so pretty.’

‘If they grow.’

‘They’ll grow.’

And it was a beginning, of sorts.

The gift of the unspoken. Or, pass the C60, please…


Last time I rambled about writing as a form of therapy, but another of my favourite methods of communication is music. I’m talking specifically here about that great institution and important stepping stone in any relationship – the mix tape. For those of you too young to remember these, the basic idea was that you went through your cassette collection to find a few songs that expressed your feelings whilst simultaneously making you sound cool and attractive, spent hours painstakingly pressing play and record to transfer them all onto one blank tape, then gave it to your intended in the hope they would find you irresistible. Sometimes it even worked.

I have received a few of these in my time and recently used one as the basis for a piece I performed at Word Up!, which is always a quite excellent night out at The Forum. The tape in question is very old* so some of the younger audience members didn’t quite get all the cultural (and I use the word loosely) references but it obviously struck a chord with a fair few. In this fast-paced download age the idea of spending hours on such a project is doubtless anathema too, but for those of a certain age, the mix tape will always hold a place in our hearts.

*It was much appreciated at the time but I can best repay the giver’s generosity by preserving his dignity and reputation and never speaking his name 😉

The mix tape, a crucial weapon in the war of love.
You can say all you want without opening your mouth – it’s genius.
The effort it takes to press play, record, pause
And spend hours finding songs to further your cause – it’s precious.
As a gift, it’s unique but you must get it right
As the recipient listens in the long lonely night
To the tracks you have so carefully chosen.
It’s a labour of love but one fraught with danger as
You, the architect and re-arranger
Want so much to make a good impression.

I bear this in mind as you hand it to me
That treasured gift of a little C60;
We both know this rite of passage is key.
We’ve chatted, held hands, snogged in the back row but now
It’s time to see if our love will grow.
So I’m all anticipation
As I pull out my Walkman, excitedly press Play
Then lie back to hear the words you wanted to say.

Amy Grant – Baby Baby, is the opening track,
And it’s clear from the off yours is a well-thought out attack.
It’s saccharine, sickly but ever so sweet
As she sings of forest walks and birds that tweet –
I’ll suppress my nausea and appreciate the sentiment.
But I’m not a huge fan of Christian pop
So onto the next song I briskly hop.

More Than Words, a great song by Extreme –
This is much better, far more my scene.
Although I can’t help feeling it’s cheating a bit.
They say they can’t find the words, so they write a song,
And you haven’t done the same, just pinched it from them
But it’s one that I love, so I guess we’ll move on.
Enigma next, with their sultry sounds
The Principles of Lust they address.
Via ethereal wailing and hypnotic beat
In an attempt, I assume, to turn up the heat.
And so far, this tape is a success
But then the next track throws a sudden curve ball.

Seriously. Ned’s Atomic Dustbin?
So-called NAD music is something that you really rate
And Happy is the track of theirs I least hate,
So that’s something. But really, what world do you live in?
I’m touched that you want me to like what you like but
As love songs go it can take a hike.

Side two is where things get a little more intense
I sense from the rather more directly overt tracks. 
SaltNPepa, Let’s Talk About Sex –
Because both of us know that that’s what’s next.
Neither of us have before so we’ll each be the first
And the beauty of this is you can bring it up in verse
And not actually have to say the embarrassing words at all.
Let’s talk about it, by not talking about it.
Yes, lets.

KLF next, 3am Eternal
And I have to say, I don’t really know what this one’s doing here.
The tune’s not great and there’s very few lyrics,
Barring the repetitious and infernal one line, of course.
I’m afraid the intended message is not clear.
The same cannot be said for the two that follow.
Cream, by Prince, then a paeon to self-pleasure from the Divinyls.
I like both tunes but it’s all getting quite rude
And whilst they say that music is love’s food
This somewhat mixed buffet is becoming quite hard to swallow.
And it’s something of a relief the next song’s the final.

So here it comes, the killer track; the one where you state your case so clear.
You know I love a good power ballad and too right, it’s Bonnie’s husky tones I hear.
Ms Tyler sings of the powder keg and spark
As she bewails the total eclipse of her heart
And it’s perfect. This song’s hitting the mark;
Aside from the rather gloomy undertones, of course.
But as an outpouring of emotions, it could be worse, and I’m loving it.

Until I remember the video.
Which to be honest, creeps me right out.
A woman of a certain age, in a school full of boys
Who, rather than turn and run from the noise
Crowd round as she calls them Bright Eyes.
Which sets my thoughts on a terrible train
About rabbits dying in that sad film, Watership Down.
Then all I can think of is mixamytosis
And frankly if that’s this relationship’s prognosis,
We are clearly doomed.