A collection of short stories and journalistic commentaries depicting my simple life
and how I fit in with the modern day universe of our times

He was the bride’s brother, come over from America to stay a while in London. She was the bridegroom’s sister, called in to keep him occupied while the newly married couple worked.

Currently she was occupying him with tea and biscuits. 

His hands, calloused and large, held the small cup as if it were a toy, afraid it was going to shatter into a thousand fragments.

She watched him trying to find a suitable place to drink from it.

“This isn’t working, is it?” she asked, smiling a little.

“Not used to such dainty things,” he admitted. “’Fraid I'm likely to crack the damn thing, then Lucy’d skin me alive.” He leaned forward. “It was a wedding gift.”

“I know. I bought it.”

He grinned. “So you did. Forgot all about that.”

“Well, I'm not exactly memorable,” she agreed.

“That wasn't what I meant,” he said quickly. “Remember you well enough.” He put the cup back in the saucer, centring it with care.

She coloured a little, the blush rising up her cheeks before receding to leave her paler than ever.

“Damn,” he said, sitting back and changing the subject. “I could do with a drink.”

“I'm sure …” She looked around, seeing the bottles on the side table. “What would you like?”

He licked his lips and she noticed that his tongue was long. “Got any bourbon?”

“Isn’t it a little early for that?” she chided gently.

“Hell, not sure I know. For three days now I’ve not known if it’s 8 am, 8 pm, or sometime on Sunday.”

“Jet lag?”

“With a vengeance.”

“In which case we’ll say the sun’s well over the yard arm and I’ll join you.”

“The sun’s what?” His blue eyes screwed up a little, unfamiliar with the saying.

“It just means … I think it’s nautical …” She smiled, the action lighting her face. “Never mind.”

He grinned. “You must think me an uneducated idiot.”

“No, no,” she assured him. “I don’t think any such thing.”

“You’re a good liar.”

“For that you don’t get a drink.”

“Aw, hell, I apologise.” He chuckled.

“Then I accept.” She got up. “Bourbon, did you say?”

“If you got it.”

She crossed to the table, turning the bottles so she could read the labels. “Ah, no bourbon. There’s Jack Daniels?”

He grinned. “Fine enough.”

She poured good measures into two glasses and brought them back. “Cheers,” she said, raising her own.

“May you be in heaven ten minutes before the devil knows you’re dead.”


He squirmed a little, embarrassed. “Something my dad used to say when he took a drink on a Saturday night.” He shrugged. “His dad was Irish, so I guess it came from there.”

“Is that where you get your colouring?” she asked, looking at his dark, almost black hair and blue eyes, then dropping her gaze to her glass.

“I guess. ‘Though Lucy don’t look like me at all. Takes after our mother, God rest her.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean –“

“She’s been dead for nearly ten years. I’m not gonna get tearful now.” He raised his glass.

“So, we gonna drink to each other’s health?”


They touched tumblers gently, and each took a mouthful. She felt it raw in the back of her throat, but was determined not to show it, even though her eyes began to tear up.

He peered at her. “You don’t exactly drink hard liquor, do you?” he asked. “Want me to get you a hankie or something?”

She waved at him. “I’m fine. And I do drink. Just not maybe this.”

His lips twitched. “Sorry about that. Turning you onto bad ways.”

“No, it’s not your fault.” She blinked hard a few times. “It’s nice.”

“And I take back what I said about you being a good liar.”

She sat back in her chair. “All right, it isn’t. But I'm being company.”

“Good company too,” he added, raising his glass to her.

“Thanks, Josh.” She smiled a little. “Joshua,” she corrected herself.

“Josh is fine. Most folks call me that, except my mom, and that was only when I did something real bad.”

“Like what?”

He laughed. “Well, that’s for me to know and you never to find out.”

“That bad?”

“Worse.” He smiled at her with his cobalt eyes.

“I like Bible names,” she said, blushing again.

He wondered how far down the pink went. “Really?”

“Mmn. I mean, there’s Ethan, Seth, Jethro …”

“Joshua?” he supplied.


“So you’d like me well enough if I were called Methuselah?”

She laughed, and the sound warmed him far more than the Jack had. “Old family name, is it?”

”It was either that or Nebuchadnezzar, only my dad put his foot down.”

“So you’ve been lying all this time about being a Joshua?”

“Sorry about that. But now you know, I have to kill you.”

“I’d really rather you didn’t,” she said, holding up a hand in mock surrender.

“Yeah, me too.” He took a deep breath. “You know, I like your name. Beth. Short for Elizabeth?”

“No,” she said quickly, surprising him. “My name’s Bethany. Only most people forget.”

“Really? I think that’s even nicer. Kinda rolls off the tongue. Exotic.”

“Most exotic thing about me.”

“I wouldn’t say that.”

She felt the breath catch in her throat, and her treacherous skin burned.

He took pity on her. “Got any cards?”


“Cards. As in deck of.”

“Um, I think … probably.” She peered at him. “Why?”

“Well, always feel the need to play a hand or two when I've got a glass of sipping whisky by my side.” He scratched his face. “Do you … play?”

“Yes,” she said, surprising him once more. “Not for a long time, though. Our granddad taught us, and we used to play for pennies.”

“That explains a lot.” Josh shook his head sadly. “Your youth was sorely wasted.”

“I wish it had been,” she said quietly. Then she quickly got up so he couldn’t see how embarrassed she was, and went to the dresser. “I think the cards are in here. What do you want to play? Poker?”

“Sounds good.” He glanced at her as she bent over, her skirt tightening across her buttocks, then looked away. “’N’ don’t worry. I won’t take you for more cash than you can afford.”

She laughed. “What makes you think you’re going to win? And I never said I’d be playing for money.” She turned back with an unopened deck in her hand.

“But you said you played for pennies –“

“That was a long time ago.”

“Then what?”

“I don’t know …” She bit her lip, looking younger than her years. “I think there might be some poker chips somewhere …”

“Look, it has to be interesting, otherwise I just can’t get my game going.” He looked at her, his mouth pursed. “How about truth or dare?”

“What?” She stared at him.

“Got some paper? We each have, oh, I don’t know, five of each, and we bet. Player with the most at the end wins.” He grinned and his blue eyes lit up. “Come on. Be fun.”

“I don’t know …”

“Seriously, I won’t make you do anything you don’t want,” he promised.

Her eyebrows raised. “You still think you’re going to win?”

“I've been playing a long while, and you … how long’s it been since you dealt a hand?”

“Years, but that doesn’t mean –“

“Look, if it’s too much for you, forget I suggested it.”

“It isn’t!” she insisted. “I mean …” She giggled.

“You get like this when you drink whisky?” he asked.

She forced herself to calm down. “Let’s play,” she said.

Neither of them wanted to lose. Each had been betting on the first hand as if their lives depended on it, and they’d had to write more markers, all of which lay in the centre of the table.

Josh looked at his hand, then at Beth. “This is it,” he said. “All on this.”

She nodded, her face flushed. “All on this,” she repeated.

“I called, so you lay down your cards.”

Beth stared at her hand again, then very carefully laid them in front of her in a fan. “Straight.”

He nodded approvingly. “Good hand.” She reached out to grab the slips, but he stopped her. “But not good enough.” He put his own cards down. “Two pair,” he said. “Unfortunately for you, it’s two kings,” he placed them down, “and another two.”

“Damn,” she breathed.

“Guess that means I win,” he said triumphantly, sitting back in his chair. “So, now we get to the interesting part. What do you want to take? Truth or dare?”

“Truth,” she said quickly, as if the word might get stuck behind her teeth.

“Truth,” he repeated, smiling a little. “Fine.” He sat forward. “How do you feel about me?” he asked, his eyes like a summer sky fixed on hers.

Her mouth dropped open, then she remembered her manners and closed it again, her teeth coming together audibly. “I meant dare,” she said, breathless.

“Often get those words mixed up, do you?”


His lips curved. “Okay. Kiss me.”


“Kiss me. You said dare, so that’s what I'm daring you to do. Kiss me. On the mouth.”

This time the blush was bright red and consumed her like a fire. “No,” she said finally.

“You lost,” he pointed out. “I'm just expecting you to honour your bet. Kiss me.”

“Josh, please,” she pleaded.

He sat back. “Okay,” he agreed, and watched the red tide diminish. “But that means you gotta pay a forfeit.”

“A … no, no, we didn’t say anything about a forfeit,” she said, holding up her hands.

“Beth, we’re playing truth or dare here. You said truth but wouldn’t tell, took a dare and backed out. There’s only one way to go with this.”

“What sort of forfeit?” she asked, feeling a tremble begin in her body.

He smiled at her and stood up. “Come here,” he said. When she didn’t move, he beckoned to her with his finger. “Come here.”

Slowly, as if she were struggling through treacle, she got to her feet, feeling the trembling become stronger, her heart pounding so hard that she was sure he could hear it. She took a step towards him, then another. “Now what?” she asked, her voice betraying her.

Still smiling he closed the gap and leaned down, placing his lips carefully on hers. He held them there for a moment, feeling the initial tightness relax into fullness and begin to part, then he lifted his head. “That’s it,” he said quietly, blue eyes gazing into brown. Funny, he hadn’t noticed their colour before.

“Oh,” she said, stumbling backwards and sitting down hard. She grabbed the tumbler of whisky and downed it in one.

“You okay?” he asked, concerned.

“Fine!” she managed to say before a coughing fit overtook her.

He patted her on the back, waiting for it to subside. “Look, I'm sorry,” he said. “I just … I've been wanting to kiss you ever since … well, ever since the wedding. ‘N’ I figured this might be the only way.”

“You have?” she asked, wiping at her streaming eyes. “Why?”

“Oh, Beth,” he said, going down onto his haunches next to her. “You’re beautiful. Funny. Talented. And I like you.”

“Really?” A slow smile spread across her features, and illuminated them. “Really?”


“Oh. In that case …” She glanced at the slips of paper on the table, and the cards still laying face up. “Can we play again? I’d like to get my own back.”

He grinned. “Sure. But I might win again,” he pointed out.

“You might. But don’t be too sure.” She pulled her chair into the table, licking her lips in anticipation.

He sat down opposite her, watching her as she gathered the cards, stacking them neatly, before redistributing the truth or dare papers. It didn’t matter if he won or lost the bet, he considered. He’d already won the game.

DEAL OR NO DEALSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

It was my 43rd birthday, and purely by coincidence, I got an invitation to tour a car factory on the same day.

Couldn’t be any better...

Well it could, but unfortunately Elle McPherson had a prior engagement. That’s what she said anyway... but can you ever really trust an Australian?

No matter, the car factory was a good second best, so off I set (with a business associate Lord Alderley... whose birthday it wasn’t, but who had still chosen Rachel Hunter as his first choice activity for the day, just in case she was free) in plenty of time, but with a palpable foreboding...

You see, whenever we get together, we don’t have a great deal of luck getting places on time.

Every journey longer than about 3 miles seems to be interrupted by a major road accident, a train de-railment, a terrorist scare, a tropical downpour... or some other disaster that turns a simple two hour trip into an eight hour epic.

But that day we were in luck - sort of...

The expected 2 hour journey ‘only’ took two and a half hours, which for us, was something of a triumph. However, it did mean that the planned relaxed pub lunch had to be replaced with a rushed petrol station sarnie, bag of beef crisps and carton of Ribena with a straw...

I’m a grown man for God’s sake!

Anyway, I was still devouring the remnants of this feast when the factory loomed into view. Now normally that wouldn’t have been a problem, but there are a couple of things I haven’t told you yet.

It was the Bentley factory at Crewe, and we were arriving in Lord ALderley’s beautiful silver Bentley Arnage.

Now one of the privileges bestowed upon anyone turning up at the Bentley factory in one of their cars is that they let you park up right in front of the main reception... and you’re greeted!

And sure enough, as we neared the main entrance, there was a small party of company executives and other guests waiting for us. Even someone with my limited knowledge of etiquette sensed that arriving in front of the Bentley Motors Ltd reception, sitting in one of their finest cars... while munching on a Ginsters Cheese and Pickle Special, still in its plastic container... was probably not going to look too good.

And so I was still frantically trying to stuff the gory evidence of my indiscretion into the glove box as we were waved into position. I made it just in time.

Next time you see someone gliding past in a Bentley, looking impossibly rich and sophisticated, hold that image in your mind. In all likelihood, they’ll be hiding some fast food horror, just out of view.

Anyway, we were ushered into the offices for tea and biscuits, (proper chocolate ones... definitely not from Netto) before moving into the factory.

They call it a factory, but bits of it look more like a showroom. Clinically clean, not a thing out of place... and quiet! It’s about as far away from the typical image of a mass production assembly line as you can get.

On the way round, I learned some fascinating stuff...

Every Bentley Arnage takes 14 weeks to make from start to finish, and just 30 cars are completed each week. The wood trim alone takes 11 weeks to make, and the company have 86 people working on that aspect alone.

All the veneers for an individual car are cut from a single piece of 80 year old timber. If just one of the veneers (say for the ashtray cover) gets spoiled in production, then all the other wood pieces for that car are scrapped, and they start again. Everything has to match perfectly. Even the pieces you can’t see (like the underside of the picnic tables) are finished to the same standard.

Fourteen cow hides are used to trim the interior of every car. I watched as staff painstakingly inspected every square inch of every hide. The slightest blemish results in a hide being rejected. It has to be totally perfect.

We went into the engine workshop and watched the engines being built from scratch. Some of the parts you never get to see are like works of art... perfect in form and finish. The gearbox control unit alone consists of over 130 separate parts. We spoke to the bloke who puts the units together. He’s been there for 28 years, and has assembled every unit personally over that time. That’s all he does.

As we got to the finishing area, we watched as every panel was exposed to very bright lights and examined in minute detail for the merest hint of a paint defect. The slightest imperfection resulted in a piece of sticky tape being applied and a trip back to the paint shop.

Nobody else would notice, but that doesn’t matter.

Every single aspect of the car is built with perfection in mind, and is then subjected to microscopic inspection to ensure that those standards have been met.

And here’s what’s interesting...

At that time, the Bentley Arnage cost around £150,000 brand new, which is a great deal of money. But everyone who tours that factory leaves with a far better understanding of why they are so much more expensive than the competition... and why they’re probably worth the difference.

The visit...organised by the Marketing Department not surprisingly...serves to justify the price.

You see, your average multi-millionaire didn’t get rich by having people overcharge him for stuff. He might be able to afford 10 cars at £150,000 each, but he’s only going to buy if he can see the value, and he’s certainly not going to buy if he feels the company are trying to rip him off.

But when he’s told how long the car takes to make, sees the attention to detail that goes into it, and the quality of the materials which are used, (even in the areas he can’t see) the high price becomes one that he can justify to himself.

You get what you pay for, and he can see very clearly why what he’s paying for costs as much as it does.

Now, what does this mean to you and your business? Well if you’re anything like me, it probably means that when you look at what Bentley do, you realise you’re not doing enough to help customers appreciate the value of what you’re selling, or to help them justify the price they’re paying.

Let’s take one of my university correspondence courses as an example...

They could tell prospective students that the course took over a year to prepare, cost over £25,000 in editorial fees, and gives them unlimited access to experts with a combined experience of 87 years in the field. All for just £150...

Which may seem a lot of money - until you learn what goes into it.

But do they tell them that? Sadly, for both them and me, they do not. Sadly for them because they’d sell more courses if they did, and sadly for me because they’re not giving me all the information I need to justify a purchase to themselves.

If you look at your own business, I’m sure you’ll see similar opportunities lost.

Are you telling your customers things like...

*   How long your product takes to produce?
*   How far afield you go to get the very best materials?
*   How long you, and your staff, had to train to do what you do?
*   What lengths you go to, to ensure quality?
*   How passionate you are about attention to detail?
*   How much money you’ve invested to be able to bring them a product/service like this?

These are just examples of course, which might not necessarily be applicable to your business. But the point is that there is probably information about your product/service and the way it is produced/delivered, which would differentiate it from the competition, and make customers more comfortable making the decision to buy from you... even if your prices are a little higher.

In competitive markets, the temptation to compete on price is a strong one - but it’s usually wrong. Fact is that your profit margins get cut to the bone, and everyone else just follows suit. Great for the customer, but not so good for the businesses which end up working for nothing.

It seems to make a lot more sense to follow Bentley’s example... stay with your premium price, but give your customers as much detailed information as you can to justify your price, and make them want to do business with you.

This idea isn’t new, and you don’t have to have a massively superior product like Bentley to make use of it...

In his book Scientific Advertising, first published in the 1920s, Claude Hopkins tells the story of a brewer who multiplied his sales by demonstrating the purity of his product. He used a photograph of a plate glass room where his beer was cooled in filtered air. He told how bottles were washed 4 times by expensive machinery and how he went down 4,000 feet to get pure water. He explained that 1,018 experiments had been carried out to make yeast to give a matchless flavour. And how all the yeast they used was forever made from that adopted mother cell.

Very persuasive information, I’m sure you’ll agree...

But what’s really interesting is that there’s nothing special about any of this. All brewers at the time were doing pretty much the same thing. It’s just that this one was the first to go to the trouble of telling people about it.

Even in the 1980s, the brewers of Stella Artois used a very similar approach to justify the comparatively high price of their lager. They went into great detail in their advertisements about the quality of the hops, the length of the drying process and the experience of their brewers, before stating that their product was “reassuringly expensive”.

For all I know, the various processes they described could have been ‘industry standard’, but it didn’t really matter. The perception of a superior product was firmly planted in customers’ minds, and they felt comfortable paying the higher price because of that.

So here’s a question for you...

Is there something fascinating or impressive in your sphere of business which everybody does, but nobody has bothered to tell customers about yet?

If there is, you could ‘claim’ it for your own, and use it to justify your higher price, or to avoid matching a price cut made by your competitors.

The bottom line on all of this is that the more you can tell people about the time, trouble and expense you go to, to bring them a first class product or service, the more comfortable and willing they will be to pay your price.

I was wondering how I could apply the principle to this blog site, but then I remembered... it’s free!

Aren’t you the lucky ones?

Very Best Wishes...

A CLASSY BIRTHDAYSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Well with the weekend upon us and all the builders merchants closed, it was obvious that not much was going to be done with respect to any plastering so it was decided that now would be a good time to tackle the re-hanging of the doors.

There are no real hard and fast rules as to how a door ought to be hung these days, it is more to do with personal preference than what tradition dictates (more on that later).

So for the purpose of this weekend’s assignment, we had three doors to re-hang which were the one to the living room off the hallway, the bathroom door and the door to the storage room.

The first two doors were easy enough, all we had to do was reposition the hinges to the opposite face of the door, turn the latching mechanisms round, hang the door and apply a few adjustments with a plane for a better fit to the frame.

The last door however (to the store room) was a different story altogether. Because it was to be hung to open outwards rather than inwards, it meant that the door (initially made to fit within the rebate of the frame) was now too big because the rebated side of the frame was now on the wrong side for it to work properly.

There are three solutions for this scenario which are as follows:

1. And probably the hardest with the most upheaval, is to remove the whole frame and turn it round. Or even fit a new one.

2. This would be to create a new rebate on the opposing face of the casing. Not an easy job while the frame is still in situ.

3. And the route I opted for, was to simply resize the door to fit the casing as is. This doorway was not a critical entrance to a major room as such, and the shelving immediately behind it meant that the full opening size of the door way was already restricted anyway.

So the door was resized. And just like the first two doors the door was then hinged differently and the latching mechanism (which needed to be re-drilled into the now slimmer door) turned to suit. And it was hung to the frame.

Job done you might think, but not quite. Because as there wasn’t a rebate for the door to sit neatly into, any undue force on the door in its closed position could strain the hinges to the extent of them being physically ripped away from the frame. So now we had to create a new rebate (Door stop).

Not a major job by an stretch of the imagination. It was merely a case of getting behind the closed door and pinning strips of wood (18mm x 30mm) to the door casing adjacent to the closed door.

And now for a few “doory stories”...

1. First off, there are no hard and fast rules as to where the hinges should be placed on the door although traditionally the top hinge starts at 7 inches from the top of the door while the bottom one is positioned 10 inches from the bottom of the door.

There is no reasoning for this other than pure aesthetics. It just looks right when viewing the door face on. This is due to parallax error, where perspectives come into play.

2. Another tradition for the good old door is that of modesty. In the good old days, it was standard practice (and even now to a large extent) to have a door shield the majority of the room from the prying eyes of oncoming traffic. Take a look at the following image...

Imagine you were in that bed acting somewhat inappropriately. That now opening door will buy you a few extra seconds to change your ways.

3. It is a hard and fast rule that all doors should open away from public areas. The easiest way to explain this is to show that in a house, that would dictate that doors open up into rooms and not hallways. External doors work in the same way too, opening into the house rather than the street, even if it does mean they are easier to kick in.

And in high traffic areas like shops, offices and even public washrooms, it is best practice to fit a window of some sort (even frosted) just so the person using the door can see any oncoming traffic.

4. In the UK, all doors are fire rated. This means they are tested to withstand fire for a specified number of minutes. In most private dwellings, doors have to withstand fire for a minimum of 20 minutes, whereas in communal buildings (offices, flats over two storeys and even houses over three storeys) the doors have to carry a minimum of a 1 hour fire rating.

The lower rated doors are normally 32mm thick and the higher rated ones 40mm thick and usually of a solid construction. So generally, when entering an existing property, the depth of the rebate (front to back) will usually reveal the required rating.

If you are concerned about the rating of your own doors but don’t particularly want to change them, there are some things you can do to improve this. A door closer of some description is always a good start, while other measures like increasing the depth (side to opening) of the rebate (using plant-on door stops), or fitting intumescent fire strips between the frame and the door (usually rebated into the frame rebate or the door edges) and even then, the application of draught excluders will also help.

The intumescent fire strips act by expanding in a fire situation and provide a seal or barrier against incoming fumes between the door and frame.

5. In the days of old, when the knights were bold, and toilets not invented... In some of the larger of the UK properties of the time, doorways were actually shaped to accommodate the large billowy dresses of the womenfolk. Thank heavens they stopped that practice.

Swapping the doors aroundSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

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Its my own fault really, its all about what I see in the world, and how it all translates for me.

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