Mirlo – A Very Short Story

   Mirlo emerged into the moonlight one night in April 1939. Victory rather than peace had been declared after three years of civil war and Mirlo was automatically one of the victors. He had spent almost three years in a hidden cave in the hills inland from Valencia, relying on a family servant to bring him sustenance and clothing; a risky business indeed for that faithful man.

   Cleanly shaven and in a respectable suit of clothes he came down from the hills that night and when he entered his town it appeared that he had arrived on the train from Madrid. His family quickly informed him of news enough to create a plausible alibi and expand upon the brief war reports that his taciturn servant had relayed to him on his nocturnal visits to the cave. Other men in Mirlo’s position had crossed the enemy lines to join their kind or had died attempting it. Mirlo would always be vague about his war activities, wishing, he said, to erase it from his memory.

   He resumed his legal practice with enthusiasm; there were many people to be tried and somebody had to make a pretence of defending them. He would soon make up his lost earnings through this vindictive legal circus. The faithful servant had been sworn to secrecy – every week for three years; he wouldn’t forget – and seemed happy to now receive no special privileges. The familiar status quo had been resumed with a vengeance and once again every man knew where he stood.

   Years passed and wounds, the press assured us, were healing. Mirlo prospered and was respected. He lived more quietly than before, but who knows what he had been through in the war which had changed many men and driven not a few to drink, whoring and even suicide?

   In the spring of ’49 an astonishing rumour began to spread among the lower orders regarding the venerable Mr Mirlo. It soon rippled through town and ascended to that social hub of the gentry, the Casino, where Mirlo took coffee, read the national papers, and did business. He laughed aloud and his peers laughed with him. Such a refined, patriotic man as he to have done such a cowardly thing! Happily for Mirlo the rumour subsided. There was no real proof and unwise would be the man who furnished such proof unless he wore the armour of considerable social standing.

   Some months later old Paco Belda was caught stealing some items of the Mirlo family silver – caught red-handed they said – although his trial was so summary and his removal to a distant prison so swift that his defence was heard by few. Never had a man acted so out of character, but you never knew in this country of remorse and revenge. The funny thing was that Paco Belda and Mirlo hadn’t exchanged more than a few dozen insignificant words during those ten years.

   Nowadays people can say just about whatever they think. People have more free time too and have taken to pursuits such as rambling in the countryside. It’s a thrill for the children to be taken to ‘La Cueva de Mirlo’ and shine a torch on the initials which are chiselled on a ledge in a corner of the damp, low roof.

   You can just make out an F, a J and an M.


Mortality – A Very Short Story

   The riders approached the foot of the climb in neat formation. Joe rode at the front of the group of twelve, alongside young Jason, and thought while he span the pedals easily. He was twenty-seven and feeling pleased with himself. He had a good job at the foundry and a pretty girlfriend who wanted him to ask her to marry him.

   He was the strongest rider in his cycling club, as he was about to prove once again on the climb up Hartridge Fell. He would steadily wind up the pace on the four mile drag until he reached the top alone, having left his club-mates scattered along the road behind him. Sunday was his favourite day.

   After less than a mile he could hear the laboured breathing of those behind him and he changed up a gear coming out of the first bend. He had considered taking it more easily today and keeping the group together, but young Jason needed to be put in his place. He was eighteen now and had trained hard during the summer. If Joe could just keep him at bay until he went off to college in September he would be happy. Should he come back the following year as a ‘racer’, Joe wouldn’t concern himself if he were stronger than him. Joe was a ‘club-man’ and a ‘proper worker’ and only felt obliged to maintain his hegemony over those of his kind.

   A mile from the top only Jason had stayed with Joe, still riding at his side, pedalling smoothly and breathing steadily. Joe shifted up another gear and stood up on the pedals to make his final effort. He increased the pace suddenly and Jason slotted into his slipstream, probably a sign of weakness. Joe powered out of the last bend with the signposts at the top of the hill in sight. His thighs were burning and he was gasping for breath when Jason came past him and Joe couldn’t stay with him. He sat back down in the saddle, looked behind him once, and ground the pedals bitterly until he reached the summit.

   He pulled over at the side of the road and slumped over the handlebars while he recovered. The other riders reached the top in ones and twos, not looking nearly as exhausted as Joe; they enjoyed their Sunday rides in a different way. As he assimilated his defeat he ran his tongue through the new gap between his back teeth. He had had a molar extracted the previous week – the first tooth he had lost – and had thought nothing of it.

   Now as he felt the gap with his tongue he did think about it, and also thought that it might soon be time to get married. He found it strange that this thought had occurred to him at that precise moment, but he didn’t realise then that for the first time in his life he had begun to perceive his own mortality.

The Camel Salesman – A Very Short Story

   John used to work at the Job Centre but lost his job and now when he visits he sits at the other side of the desk.

   When clients met with John they had to agree on three work sectors in which to concentrate their job applications. These, to give you a typical example, might be retail work, catering work and factory work. One day a small, gnarled man from an eastern country visited John for the first time. His daughter also attended as this man spoke no English. John went through the usual preliminaries, halting several times to allow the young woman to translate, after which the man would look gravely at John and nod twice; always twice.

   John asked the man what kind of work he was looking for and the daughter informed him that her father was a camel salesman. John explained that there was little trade in camels in this part of the country, but that his selling skills may well be transferable to other areas of the retail sector.  John typed ‘Retail’ into the computer, pointed at the word, and the daughter told her father what John had written. The man shook his head twice and spoke rapidly to his daughter. No, she said, he was only able to sell camels. He had sold camels all his life, as had his father and his grandfather before him, and he was too old to change now.

   John typed the job description Camel Salesman for the first time in his life and his fingers tingled. He then asked him what other work sectors he would consider and the man gazed at him, neither nodding nor shaking his head, and smiled. It was a winning, toothless smile and John typed Camel Salesman twice more. He pointed to the screen and the man nodded three times and smiled again. He was beginning to understand written English.

   Surely, you ask, John wasn’t sacked for this impulsive transgression? Surely a warning would have sufficed?

   Alas, the story does not end here. John was so taken with the new job category that he urged other clients to consider it. He spoke of an emerging market, a new direction, diversification and an under-skilled sector. Several people agreed that Camel Sales was a profession they could no longer ignore. What motivated the clients to make this choice I will leave the reader to surmise. I suspect that their reasons ranged from extremely lateral thinking, through bloody-mindedness, to sheer stupidity.

   When the quarterly report was published, much to the delight of a conscientious local journalist, it indicated that 172 citizens of this small northern town wished to pursue a career in Camel Sales. John was interviewed by a panel of mental health assessors, deemed at least as sane as they were, and sacked.

   John now sits at the other side of his old desk and, try as he may, he simply cannot convince his former colleague to type the words Camel Salesman under Category Three.

This story is one of ‘Thirty Brief Tales from England and Spain.’

Satirical Sonnets – #1: To Write, Perchance to Sell

So simple ‘tis now to publish a novel,

One writes it, uploads it, and dreams of wealth.

No more shall I have to sweat and grovel

From Monday to Friday, (or idle with stealth).


I penned mine last month and ‘twas easy enough,

The chapters poured forth as if willed by fate.

I published at once without fear of rebuff,

Now hand in my notice? Or better to wait?


Daily I hoped for discerning readers

To gasp at my subtle though breathtaking art.

In vain did I wait for the tight-fisted bleeders

To buy my creation and gladden my heart.

So while I return to my dull office files,

My oeuvre lies sunk in the virtual



The Adventures of Upcote and Smythe – The first chapter


   Upcote sipped his tea from the china cup which was kept on the top shelf in Bob’s café for his own use only and eyed Peter Smith over the rim before placing it carefully back on its saucer and releasing his well-manicured finger and thumb.
  “If you and I are to become associates, Smythe, we must attend to various pressing matters.”
  “Who’s Smythe when he’s at home, John?”
  “And the first of those matters is your name, and my name for that matter.”
  “What’s the matter with my name?”
  “A lot, and I can assure you that names matter, Smythe. Much water has passed under the bridge since we left the employ of Messieurs Atkinson and Sons – improving waters in my case – and the last eight years have transformed me from an inky-fingered office drudge into a gentleman, and a gentleman of leisure to boot.”
  “But you must be as skint as I am, John.”
  “Kindly address me by my surname, as I will henceforth address you by a more palatable version of your own. Wealth is a relative concept, Smythe, and if we become further reacquainted I will familiarise you with the methods by which one can augment one’s modest state subsidy and live like a gentleman even in a town of barbarians such as this.”
  “Nuncaton’s all right, Joh-, Upcote.”
  “Nuncaton is a heathenish post-industrial blot on a once unsullied pastoral landscape in which my forebears lived in the manner to which I am striving to become accustomed.”
  “Wasn’t your old fella a weaver at Warton’s Mill?”
   Upcote’s most withering glance passed through his pince-nez and hovered on Smythe’s narrow shoulders before settling on his thin, craggy face.
  “Before that, dammit, long before that. My research carried out on the computers in the public library proves beyond doubt that my surname was prominent in this shire well before the Wars of the Roses and quite possibly before the Norman Conquest. I mean to restore the honour of the Upcotes and rise above the prevailing social decay which would sicken the soul of a less aloof man.”
  “You didn’t use to talk like that and in that posh accent. Whenever I came into the office to collect an order you were always nattering away with the rest of ‘em.”
  “Them, Smythe, but then came the metaphorical bridge and the eight years of purifying waters which have flowed beneath it. Eight years of education, refinement of character and significant sartorial improvements have produced a man who could enter the finest clubs in London and feel entirely at home.”
  “Join the Con Club.”
  “Pha! That conclave of philistine businessmen who owe their transient wealth to the beastly industrial revolution? You have much to learn, Smythe, much to learn.” Upcote thumbed his pince-nez into place and lowered his voice an octave. “Mr Williams, would you be so kind as to prepare another pot of tea, please?”
  “Coming right up, Mr Upcote,” said the stout proprietor, grimacing at the back of Upcote’s head.
  “How’d you get Bob to call you Mr Upcote?” said a stunned Smythe. “I’m lucky if I get more than a grunt.”
  “Respect, Smythe. Respect and a cognisance that if he wishes to continue to enjoy my daily patronage he must address me befittingly. This establishment, though rather plebeian in character, has become my centre of operations, so to speak. I am surprised not to have seen you here before, given your familiarity with Mr Williams.”
  “Yes, well, I’ve been away for a couple of years.”
  “In a way,” said Smythe.
  “Broadening your horizons far away from this nest of cultural newts?”
  “Sort of.”
  “Which burghs did you frequent?”
  “Niddleton Open Prison mainly.”
  “I say, Smythe. And what infractions led to your detainment?”
  “Oh, benefit fraud and things like that.”
  “And things like?”
  “Like blackmail. Look John… Upcote, I’ve had a rough time since I lost my job. The missus walked out, I hit the bottle, started getting into debt. I haven’t been as lucky as you.”
  “Lucky? Luck, my dear Smythe, has nothing to do with it. Application, determination and the realisation of my true merits have held the key, not luck.”
   Smythe drank from his standard issue mug and observed Upcote’s shiny bald scalp, his plump rosy face with the ridiculous specs perched on his large nose, his tweed jacket and neatly knotted tie, and above all his expression of utter self-satisfaction. There was something to be said for those meta-something waters he went on about. Nor had he looked down his nose when he had told him that he had been inside.
Bob appeared, casting a shadow over the table.
  “Here you are Mr Upcote, and Mr…?”
  “Smythe,” said Smythe, blushing.
  “Mr Smythe. Enjoy your tea,” said Bob sweetly, flicking a tea towel daintily over his huge shoulder and plodding back to the counter. He was used to Upcote’s ways – it broke the monotony if nothing else – and if he took that old soak Smith under his wing it might cheer the poor sod up a bit.
  “So, Upcote,” Smythe went on, “you don’t think the worse of me for having done time?”
  “On the contrary, Smythe, if nothing else it shows initiative, a refusal to be downtrodden, and a combative spirit which may indicate an aristocratic past.”
  “Do you think so?”
  “No, or at most a stray squire’s gene or two, but the point is that although breaking the law is something to be avoided by all judicious gentlemen, there is undoubtedly a higher moral law to which we adhere and which on occasions transcends certain legislative obstacles put in place with the management of the masses in mind.”
  “So you think it’s all right that I claimed the dole and worked on the side.”
  “Given your need at the time to slake a thirst provoked by matrimonial infelicity I should say that, on balance, yes.”
  “I’m still overfond of a drop,” said Smythe, shaking his head.
  “Your drinking habits will be taken in hand along with other matters, some of which I have touched upon.”
  “Such as?”
  “Such as your posture, your attire, your diction, your manners, your hair, your nails and your car.”
  “The car might be on the way out. I’m struggling to pay the insurance.”
  “Au contraire, Smythe, your automobile is a vital element in our future undertakings. When I saw you pull up outside and recognised my erstwhile fellow wage slave I said to myself, ‘There is a man with locomotive powers who once taken under the Upcote wing and incubated there for a while will soon develop into a well-rounded companion who will deservedly share the fruits of my endeavours.’”
  “So you’re not just looking for someone to run you about?”
  “Certainly not, Smythe. In fact, given the current unwholesome state of the vehicle in question I would be most reluctant to seat myself within it.”
  “It’s due for a clean.”
  “Yes, and I will leave its sanitisation in your capable hands. Now, when you have ceased to slurp from that abominable mug we shall go forth and attend to the most pressing of your requirements.”
  “My clothes?”
  “Just so, and your hair. You can attend to your nails during and after the cleansing of your car and while you are about it please attempt to remove the disgusting nicotine stains from those two fingers.”


   Upcote led the way into the pedestrianised part of Nuncaton town centre and Smythe was both impressed and embarrassed by his upright carriage and haughty bearing which attracted many glances that were never returned. He looked like a lord among his peasants and Smythe found himself stretching his own five feet six inches until he could just see over his shoulder. Upcote was a big man, probably weighing almost double his own eight and a half stone, and this and his smart clothes certainly made him look like a someone rather than a nobody like himself. He just hoped that these new clothes weren’t going to cost him a fortune.
  “Here we are,” said Upcote, allowing Smythe to open the rickety door. “Good day, ladies,” he boomed at the three elderly stewards of the largest charity shop in town who, if they did not quite curtsey, certainly looked as though they might.
  “Good morning, Mr Upcote,” said the eldest. “Come to look at our knickknacks?”
  “Perish the thought,” he said to Smythe, sotto voce. “No, my dear, no time for trinkets today. Today we must provide my friend here with a suitable outfit for his court appearance. The poor man is about to lose all he possesses to his vulpine ex-spouse and must meet his fate with all the dignity he can muster.”
  “Women today aren’t what they were,” sympathised the aged matron. “They don’t stick by their men anymore.”
  “Quite so,” Upcote replied, his raised eyebrows closing Smythe’s open mouth as they made their way over to the men’s clothing racks. “Well, Smythe, I don’t think you can quite carry off this natty tweed jacket yet although you might try it on for size.”
   Smythe slid off his green nylon jacket and slipped into the proffered garment.
  “No, as I suspected, it makes you look like a poacher of the queen’s deer. Try on the jacket of this blue suit… yes, yes, just the thing. The sleeves are a touch lengthy but the general impression is not unfavourable. Now scurry off behind that little curtain and pop on the trousers.”
   Smythe soon emerged from the cubicle in a suit which apart from obscuring all but his fingertips and big toes – one naked and the other still under cover of an ailing sock – was a good fit.
  “My, my, Smythe, you do have a peculiar body, but I think with some minor adjustments the suit will rest well upon it. Ladies,” he said in his special lowered tone of voice reserved for tradespeople and policemen, “how much will this old thing cost my poverty-stricken friend?”
  “Let me see the label, sir,” said the youngest of the old ladies. “Seventeen pounds this one.”
  “Heavens above! And still with shirts and ties to purchase, not to mention socks, poor man. Take off that suit of gold thread for now, Smythe, while I rummage on these costly racks for the necessaries.”
   While Smythe changed, Upcote leisurely extracted some shirts and ties, mumbling all the while, “Poor man, poor man, that harlot has bled him dry and now these fine ladies will leave him without money for food.”
   Smythe emerged with the suit over his arm and almost tripped over the curtain. Upcote quickly turned his smile into a grimace.
  “Bear up, man, and we’ll get you to the church for your food parcel. You see how it is,” Upcote addressed the eldest of the women gravely. “When a man goes to bed hungry and wakes up hungry even a task as simple as changing his clothes brings him to the point of exhaustion. He almost fell twice coming here from his revolting bedsit while his soon to be ex-wife lounges in the spacious house which he worked so hard to pay for. Now then; the old suit, these three threadbare shirts, two ragged ties and this piece of leather which was once a belt, how much will he have to pay?”
The three women looked at each other and the most ancient, after much hand wringing, said, “Would twenty pounds be all right?” before dropping her eyes to the floor. “It’s for the hospice,” she added.
   Upcote sighed deeply and extracted his wallet. “Here you are, my good lady.” She took the note and bobbed her head. “All my friend needs now is for the pertinent adjustments to be made to the suit in order to make a favourable impression in court. Do you carry out services of that nature here?”
  “No, we don’t,” said the woman who had so far remained silent and who now showed signs of having been recently in the vicinity of a very old fish. Ignoring her, Upcote turned his blue eyes upon the other two.
  “Would either of you fine ladies, skilled no doubt in all household tasks befitting the excellent wives I am sure you have been, or are, be able to carry out these trifling alterations in the comfort of your own home in order to enable this aggrieved man to have a fighting chance when facing the judge tomorrow?”
  “Well, Mr Upcote, if you put it like that,” said the least ancient assistant, “I suppose I could do that for him.”
  “You are the salt of the earth, my dear. Smythe, slip the suit on again and we’ll pin it up. We will call round tomorrow morning for the second fitting.”
  “Deirdre,” said the rebel, “we’re going to the bingo tonight.”
  “Oh, I’ll have time later on, Sheila, and Mr Upcote’s friend needs the suit for tomorrow.”
  “Tomorrow’s Saturday,” said Sheila with a belligerent glance at Upcote.
  “Extra sitting,” he retorted. “The frivolous young hussies of the town are queuing up to abandon their menfolk. Kindly bring me some pins, ladies, and may your Christian charity bring you luck at the bingo tonight.”


  “Ah, Smythe,” said Upcote as he led the way to the barber’s shop. “Your stumbling from the cubicle was a masterstroke that may well have tipped the balance in our favour.”
  “But I didn’t do it on purpose.”
  “No? Well, store the event in your memory because it is little deceptions of that nature that shift the proletarian brain into a more malleable state.”
  “Like that court case crap you were on about?”
  “Language, Smythe, please. From now on you must cease to utter expletives, even in the most trying situations in which we will no doubt find ourselves from time to time. Swearing indicates weakness and the masses pounce upon the gentleman should he manifest any frailty of purpose or signs of anxiety.”
  “You mean no swearing?”
  “None at all.” Upcote stopped and faced Smythe. “No swearing, no voice raising, no vacillation and no stumbling unless performed with a purpose in mind. At present, Smythe, as far as I am aware I am the only true gentleman within a radius of ten miles from the spot upon which we stand, given that Sir Blandinton of Blandinton Hall resides in the Seychelles for tax avoidance purposes. If you aspire to one day become the second you will observe my behaviour with the utmost attention and allow it to permeate your consciousness.”
  “And copy you?”
  “No, absolutely not. If you try to ape me you will merely look like an ape or at best a music hall performer. For the present you should simply pay attention to your language, walk rather than shuffle, and show total confidence in everything I say and do. Let us enter the establishment of this competent barber and rid you of most of that hair.”
  “I’ve got a good head of hair for a fifty-three year old.”
  “Most of which is about to slither to the barber’s floor. After you.”


  “I bet I get a cold in the head now and I didn’t like the way you told the barber how to cut my hair as if I was a kid,” said Smythe, rubbing his closely cropped head and attempting to sulk.
  “Left to your own devices you would have had him merely snip around that unsightly silvery mass and not have permitted him to remove your Victorian whiskers.”
  “I’ve had sideburns since I was sixteen.”
  “You looked like a failed turf accountant. With shorter hair you have risen by several evolutionary stages and your face looks fuller, or at least somewhat less emaciated, than before. Open your mouth.”
  “Let’s have a look at your teeth. Hmm, the crucial ones are present but I suggest you purchase some of that whitening toothpaste and apply it several times a day before we make a final decision.”
  “What decision?”
  “Why, whether to have them all out or not, of course. Look at mine.”
  “They’re false, aren’t they?”
  “Better false than flawed, Smythe. Mine were cracked and yellow so five years ago – when I was your age in fact – I ordered my dentist to pull them all out. He refused at first, saying they were perfectly normal for a man of my age, but I explained that although I was born and live in this town I am not of this town and did not wish to emulate the local predilection for Dickensian gnashers.”
  “So he agreed?”
  “After much persuasion and having obliged me to sign a disclaimer, he did. People judge a gentleman much as they judge a horse, you see, and one must eradicate any defects no matter how painful the process.”
  “I’ll buy a tube of that toothpaste.”
  “Buy two, and a good stiff brush. Now all that remains is to have you shod appropriately and rid you of those appalling football boots.”
  “All sporting apparel is to be avoided, Smythe, unless we are to join a hunt, but until the government reverses its reactionary decision to prohibit that finest of gentlemanly pursuits there is no reason to step out of civilian attire.”
  “Fox hunting’s cruel.”
  “Poppycock. Animals know their place just as the mass of the people used to. There is no more honourable death for a fox than to be torn to pieces by a fine pack of English hounds. Now, let us stroll towards the monstrous supermarket where I believe a pair of passable shoes can be purchased for a modest sum.”
  “Once I’ve given you that twenty quid back I’ll be skint.”
  “Pounds, Smythe, but do not give it another thought. Between gentlemen money is something to be passed across the table like the salt pot or, in the case of larger amounts, under the table like, well, like money. It is only the common herd who attach undue significance to that most vulgar of topics.”
  “Well, thank you, Upcote.”
  “Think nothing of it, Smythe, nothing at all. Money is merely a means to an end and if our partnership prospers it will flow towards us and between us like water.”
   They entered the gigantic supermarket which dominated the town and glided up the escalator to the footwear section where Upcote selected a pair of brown shoes and called authoritatively for assistance. A pasty young man soon appeared and was dispatched to find a pair of size sevens.
  “These will do for now, Smythe, until our first joint successes permit us to purchase a pair of fine brogues like my own.”
  “There was a nice pair in that charity shop that might’ve fit.”
  “Gentlemen do not wear second-hand footwear, Smythe. With footwear, unlike clothing, all vestige of the former owner cannot be annihilated in the washing machine or at the dry cleaner’s.”
  “I suppose not.”
  “Now I must leave you as I have business to attend to. When I arrive at the café tomorrow morning at eleven o’clock I hope to walk past your gleaming automobile and enter to see you clothed in your new outfit which you will have collected from the old crones and changed into in the bathroom before leaving your old clothes in Bob’s bin.”
  “They might come in handy sometime.”
  “They will never come into your life again. In a month you will find it hard to believe that you spent your entire adult life impersonating an American teenager.”


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101 – The Importance of Not Being Ernest

A great blog post from Tamara Essex…

A Foot in Two Campos

Who are we?  Those who are seeking the sun?  We who have packed up our belongings in one country, and unpacked them in another?  Los que buscan el sol.

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Writing Rhythms

  ‘You writing anything at the moment?’

  ‘No, I’m having a rest.’

  ‘What, recharging your batteries?’

  ‘Well, I suppose you could say that, yes.’

  ‘Except the human body doesn’t have batteries.’

  ‘By which you mean?’

  ‘Well, all the writers I’ve read about wrote all the time, or said they did. Their vocation, you see. Couldn’t keep their hands off the quill, or biro, or typewriter, or-’

  ‘-Yes, yes, but nor did they have jobs, most of them. It can start to feel like you’re burning the candle at both ends – and I know the human body isn’t a candle – and it’s good to take it easy for a few weeks.’

  ‘Anthony Tr-’

  ‘Yes, I know that Anthony Trollope used to get up before he went to bed and write 2,500 words before popping into work to design a post box or two, but we aren’t all superhuman. It takes me three days to write so many words.’

  ‘It’s a lot of words. Graham Greene set his limit at 500 and-’

  ‘-Broke off mid-sentence, I know, I’ve tried that.’

  ‘Breaking off mid-sentence?’

  ‘Well, no, but sticking to 500 words. The trouble is that if it’s going well you want to carry on a bit longer. Who knows, the next day you might be too tired to write much.’

  ‘Ever tried writing lying down?’

  ‘What, like Mark Twain? I tried it once, but I fell asleep.’

  ‘Must’ve been riveting stuff.’

  ‘Not as funny as Mark Twain, perhaps. I’ve tried writing standing up too, like Hemingway, but I kept sitting down and forgot to stand up again.’

  ‘Not as tough as him then?’

  ‘No-one’s as tough as he made himself out to be. A lot of it was Dutch courage, though.’

  ‘He never drank while he was writing.’

  ‘Thank goodness for that. They’d have published it anyway.’

  ‘Victor Hugo wrote in the bath.’

  ‘He wouldn’t if he was around now; he’d electrocute himself.’

  ‘Some writers still use a pen, you know.’

  ‘I’ve tried that too, but my handwriting’s so lousy that I struggle to read it afterwards.’

  ‘Best not to try writing in the dark then, like Henry David Thoreau did when he couldn’t sleep.’

  ‘I’d be tempted to flick the light switch on.’

  ‘I suppose so. Anyway, if you’re not writing a book now, why don’t you do a bit of blogging? That’s all the rage nowadays.’

  ‘What? And use up my ideas! I don’t get so many of them, you know.’

  ‘Write this down, or up, then.’

  ‘I might just do that.’