If I'd known that marrying was such hard work, I might have had second thoughts about it. But for the moment Morgana and I were living in bliss. News of our engagement soon flew through the village and before long perfect strangers who until then had totally ignored us, stopped us in the streets to ask when the happy day would be. But what everyone most wanted to know was whether the celebration would take place here or in Brittany. Strangely enough, no one ever seemed to contemplate the possibility of an Irish wedding. But as yet, none of these questions had any answers. We were to busy enjoying the first fruits of being in love to contemplate any of these things. And apart from that things were getting busy. The AGM of the Espace Loisirs was just a few weeks away and we were busy preparing a concept for the future.

The first year had gone reasonably well. Overall inscriptions were slightly down but the number of activities were up and the actual number of people still attending after 4 months was far higher than it had ever been. The handball team were second in their division, the creative writing group had got together with the photography group and were preparing an exhibition entitled "Forest Gleanings" and a number of the other sports teams were doing well in their respective leagues.

But our biggest success was the fact that the centre was rapidly becoming a vital element in bringing people of the village together. During the six months since opening we had had two concerts and a dance evening. Attendance at both was beyond our wildest dreams and led to several demands for some more regular activity. We were currently examining the possibility of opening a drop in café which would serve as a meeting place for the young mothers, and the elderly.

But the one area where we were sadly lacking was in the realm of music. There was so much we could do, especially for the youth of the village who more often than not would hit the highway and migrate to the big city at weekends. But who would take it on? Then we got a letter from a former music teacher living locally, proposing her help on a voluntary basis. She certainly seemed very competent and was very willing. She was a bit cagey about her age and I figured the 'former' with which she had described herself must imply that she was now retired. Would she connect with the young people we were trying to reach? And why all the mystery with a letter? Why didn't she just come and see us?

We talked about the matter at the next committee meeting but the offer received a cool welcome. Morgana was very critical without giving any reasons. But then how could she be otherwise? Who knew better than I that she dearly wanted to take on this job herself. But how could I ask her to make the sacrifice of giving up her job at the conservatoire? Besides, what would we live on? My salary at the centre was more or less adequate, but as yet it was still only guaranteed for one year. An nearly empty bank account was not the best way to begin married life. What did surprise me in this matter, however, was Thérèse' lack of enthusiasm. We all knew she was burning with a desire to get something off the ground for the young people in the village, yet she said absolutely nothing; and when questioned just murmured some sort of general approbation. It seemed she had serious misgivings but did not want to voice them. I was now beginning to have serious misgivings myself, but we nonetheless decided no harm would come of asking this lady to come and meet us, so we discuss her offer further. The moment this decision was taken, Thérèse spoke up.

"I'm afraid I have to confess to a certain subterfuge concerning this offer. But our candidate felt this subterfuge was necessary so that we would, at least once, talk about this issue without knowing whom it really concerned, as that might have unduly influenced us. In fact, we are not talking about a former teacher, although this young lady will become a former teacher if you accept her offer. It's a young lady with excellent qualifications and a very good job. But her heart is not in her work. She doesn't want to serve an elite few but to bring music and creativity to a much wider audience. And so I propose we do indeed question her directly, as she's sitting at the table with us. And I'm sure, that now we've accepted the principle, we'll have no hesitation in accepting the candidate. And please accept my assurance that our director knew nothing at all about this."

I was dumbfounded. How on earth had the two of them managed to pull the blinds over my eyes. The matter of the letter was easy. They'd had it written by a friend of Morgana's whom I didn't know. But why hadn't she said anything? I would have been overjoyed at such a proposition. Or would I have been? If indeed, it was so, then why hadn't I myself asked Morgana to take it on? And the matter of the money? Maybe their little subterfuge was necessary, after all?

John left the workshop with a sense of satisfaction deep down inside. Not only had he finished, but he had begun again. Finishing was easy, but once finished he had to put the past behind him and begin again. That wasn't easy. He'd been tempted to let things be. He could hardly claim a resounding success for his first attempt, even if all his appreciative audience muttered flattering comments. But try he must and try he would, and so before washing his clay-smeared hands he moved on to vase number two.

It was Vanessa's first visit and it hadn't gone well. She had hoped to bring some small consolation to the young man who was going to spend the rest of his life in a chair. Instead all she got was a tirade of abuse as the young man vented his anger against the world on herself. Vanessa didn't cry. She never did. Maybe if she could, it would make things easier. Instead she just headed out of the room, striding determinedly towards the exit doors. She couldn't wait to leave this ward behind her. Her days of volunteer visiting would end the day they had started. And they would have too, had it not been for the elderly woman who looked at her, helplessness in her eyes and begged without a single word: "Please come and say hello to me."

Larry and Margaret were determined not to make the same mistake again. And for a long time, the only way they could think of not doings was to quit fostering altogether. It seemed a drastic solution, one they regretted. After all they did have almost 19 years of fostering to their name and more than one happy family had visited them during those 19 years to say thanks for looking after someone who had now become a loving mother, father, husband, wife. And of course, with these as with all their children they had made mistakes, many mistakes. And they had been completely exonerated by the commission set up to look into the affair. Many hours of counselling failed to make them reverse their decision. Indeed, it probably would never have been reversed if the next child hadn't literally arrived on the doorstep. It came from next door. The new neighbour: I'm ill..., a serious operation..., my girl..., couldn't you... wouldn't you... please." It took only one look into those timid little eyes to melt their hearts.

Scott was preparing his very last class. As was always the case these people had become true friends. As a group they were were seeking to discover the very heart of what it meant to be a Christian. There had been some very heated discussions. Some had gone along with what he said, some were interested but hesitant. Others had been quite vehement in their outspokenness. But all had profited from these classes and all were hoping that tonight would not be the end. But for Scott this last session always represented a major challenge. Christianity is not only about love and fellowship, it's also about a just God, and that meant a God who judges. Yet, how to square such judgement with God's love. Scott had used a number of images in the past, each of which explained in part how love and judgement could go hand in hand. But as he read through his Bible that morning, his heart was again filled with wonder at the new beginning God had promised. Indeed, judgement was not the last word. It was a necessary step to herald in what was to come. It was nothing other than the end which would enable a new beginning under God's glorious and loving reign.

Chain Reaction

It was Paul's first ever story. He didn't have a clue how good it was. He'd put it up on his website and with a bit of luck, he'd get some feedback. But for the moment, he was just happy to have made a coherent whole out of one of the ideas which flooded into his mind the moment he found the role of film in the dresser. This was precisely the stimulation he needed. He'd been toying around with writing for months, and knew all about 'using your imagination' and asking yourself 'what if?' But finding the roll of film was a godsend.

His first reaction had been to get the film developed. He soon thought better of it. It was unlikely to be of any earth-shattering importance. Besides, there would always be time enough for that later. No, if he wanted to write, he couldn't be burdened by the truth. No, if his imagination was to be allowed to run riot, then it had to be free of any clutter reality might bring.

He sat down at his desk and started sketching out the two characters that impressed himself on his mind. Lovers, secret lovers. So secret, that neither knew of the other's love. Too many obstacles existed for any sort of declaration yet. But their love would hold true and one day...

He took long walks with his hero learning to look and think like as he did. Patrick, his name was, and as they walked together through the hills that surrounded the West Wales countryside, Paul felt he was slowly getting to grips with him. Patrick was not what you would call a handsome man. Tall, at nearly six feet with earthy, brown hair and a freckled face. He was a quiet man, not given to many words, but day Paul visited his small cottage he instantly found the window into his soul.

Trying to capture Isabella's essence was a different matter. Decorum and a touch of shyness would not permit him to take long walks, even imaginative ones, with her as he did with Patrick. And so Isabella remained a distant creature, which only served to add to the aura she emitted, fuelled by her ravishing looks and her more than mysterious background. What was obvious, however, was Patrick's love for the mysterious orphan girl he'd grown up with; an unusual match in the eyes of most of the

Scene by scene Paul composed his story in bold, broad strokes, adding in just a touch of detail here and there when it proved necessary. But the penultimate scene, however, needed much more care. This was to be the climax of his narrative and Paul ran it through in his mind's eye a hundred different times, before he felt he was getting near to what he wanted. Every detail had to be exactly right: Patrick tiptoeing through the great hall of Webberly mansion, the roll of film in his hand; the burst of laughter coming from the dining hall which told him Isabella's dinner party was not yet over. He pictured Patrick carefully taping the roll to the underside of the small dresser before slipping out of the side door and vanishing into the darkness just as snow began to fall. But all Patrick's care not to be seen was in vain. The moment he reached the yard one of the lodge dogs started barking, attracting Isabella's attention. Patrick scurried away into the shadows. He didn't want to be seen; that would spoil everything. He'd have to explain and he'd never been a one for words. His only hope was for Isabella to discover the film; the photos would speak a far clearer message than he ever would.

Patrick was too late however. But the moment Isabella saw him, she needed no further explanation. She understood. And her heart melted. And so we leave our reader with this one last picture of a woman battling her way through the gathering snow along the path to true love.

And the roll of film with the tell-tale photographs. It was quite simple forgotten in the ecstasy of new-found love. Forgotten that is until one day, a prompt appeared on the Write Stuff website and Paul wondered how he could turn this prompt into a story he could put up on his blog.

Janet's first impulse was to flick quickly through the report. Luke had never been particularly good at hiding his thoughts, so she already knew the conclusions. And the prose obviously wasn't going to be inspiring. But she knew how much this meant to Luke, so she forced herself to study it carefully. She began at the end. She always began at the end. Any serious document had contain its essence within the last few pages. You begin by stating your premise; you then summon up the arguments and lay down the evidence; but the conclusion is always the most important. How many times had she repeated these words to eager students on her P206 Modern Communications course? And how many times had Luke heard these words? He was obviously a good student. It was a masterpiece of textbook reporting; the conclusions were set down in a clear readable, if not exactly inspiring fashion.

A Study On The Nature Of Artistic Expression. In other words what makes an artist an artist. She still couldn't help but smile whenever she thought about the light-hearted banter they'd exchanged when he first told her what he was researching. They'd met just two nights before, and whereas it may not have been love at first sight, it didn't take long for Luke's easygoing manner to sweep her off her feet. Luke wasn't an artist. He was far too analytical for that. Art was the application of various techniques to come up with a composition pleasing to the senses. By this definition art was nothing more than discernible principles which could be applied by anyone to create anything. And that she knew was the basic premise of the group's report.

The study was presented in three parts. The first part dealt with the biological make up of the artist. Three eminent geneticists had conducted a series of experiments to isolate the genes in the human body responsible for artistic ability. They had failed, but refused to admit it in so many words, concealing their true conclusions behind a sea of conjectures. The second part was Luke's brainchild. In it he analysed the patterns discernible in creative compositions of varying kinds, coming up with a basic "how to" on art creation. It was well researched and forcefully argued. The final section attempted to weave together the findings of the first two sections and come up with a philosophy of artistic creativity. The whole thing was written in turgid, uninspiring, if exact prose. It read well, especially for a scientific document. But there was something lacking, sorely lacking.

Janet placed the document on her coffee table only too aware of Luke's expectant eyes fixed on her.

"Well, what do you think?" The excitement in his voice was all too evident. I think it's interesting, and it's certainly well-written. But there's something missing.

"And what's that?" Luke replied moving closer and putting his arm around her shoulder.

"I don't know. It's something indefinable; and totally mysterious. I doubt you'll ever find it. I know you'll never find it. Even I haven't found it, although I've got some small part of it."

And raising her glass she proposed a toast:

To the artistic difference which makes life worth living.

The shock of seeing Violette on the TV the night before was unsettling. Here I was with a dinner date that very evening and hoping beyond hope that I would get to see more of Morgana, yet here was this visible presence from the past, peeping over my shoulder and reminding me that she had once occupied centre stage in my life. Had I stayed in the pub yesterday evening I might have heard enough to make me realise that this relationship was truly over. As it was, I did an about turn the moment I saw her face and went for a long walk down by the canal. So it wasn't until the next day that the fascinating announcement of Violette's unlikely marriage reached me. And looking back I'm glad I didn't hear any earlier. Circumstances must not be allowed to decide this question for me; I had to find my own answer.

Strangely enough, I was not in any kind of turmoil. Indeed, I quickly realised that I hadn't thought of Violette in months. True her sudden reappearance was unsettling, but not unduly worrying. I relived some of the times we had shared together. We'd had a lot of fun but there had also been more than our fair share of problems. In fact, even before she disappeared, it was rapidly becoming clear that we weren't made for each other. We just weren't on the same wavelength. And so, out there on the towpath I was finally able to lay to rest the ghost of Violette past and reaching the old boathouse I turned back towards Gensdouce more convinced than ever that my happiness lay in someone else's hands.

We met for dinner for dinner that evening and left the restaurant some three hours later scarcely believing what had taken place. In spite of the excellent dinner which undoubtedly weighed us down somewhat, we both felt as if we were walking on air. As she was teaching early the next morning at the conservatoire, Morgana had arranged to spend the night at a girlfriend's, so after walking her home, I set off for the railway station, still mesmerized at my amazing inability to see what was going on around me. Morgana had been in love with me for months and I'd not noticed a thing. How could I have been so blind? The whole thing was crazy. Yet, looking back it was all so obvious. And ass as I was, I'd almost ruined everything with my insensitivity. Even that very evening I'd failed to see what was coming. I'd planned on asking her out again sometime that week, and hoped that if she said yes, then we might soon start seeing each other regularly. But Morgana was having none of it. She had loved and hoped; she had seen her hopes dashed forever until my arrival and apology the previous morning had revived them once again. She had hesitated because she didn't want to see them wrecked again. And in the course of that day her idea had become a firm resolve. The moment I asked if I couldn't see her again later that week, she looked me straight in the eyes and in her own touching way exclaimed, "Simon, why don't we get married?"

In order to give us time to inform our families we decided to wait a few days before making the announcement to our unsuspicious little world. So, the next morning saw me back at my office at the espace loisirs but not before the following letter had been written and was on its way to the emerald green island that had, for so long, been my home.

Dear Sis,
I bet you're going to be amazed at receiving a letter from me. I'm sure it must be a first. Isn't it strange that at important times like these you turn to your family first. And I guess it's easier writing this to you than to Mum. The fact is, little Sis I'm going to get married. Surprised? To be quite honest, I can't quite believe it myself, and if you'd told me a week ago that this was going to happen, then I'd have said you were mad. Even now I can't really explain all that has happened. But what I do know is that I'm engaged to be married to the most wonderful girl in the world...



Mr. & Mrs. Frederick Danvers were today sentenced to a three month prison sentenced suspended for two years, for credit card default following a a two day trip toCourton Downs last week. In just two days the couple bought clothes and luxury items valued over £ 3 000 in a spending spree which included a ten course meal with Champagne at the Cartwheel restaurant and a suite for the night at the luxury George Hotel. This, despite being fully aware that there were insufficient funds in their account to cover the expenses.

When questioned about the motives for their act, Mr. and Mrs. Danvers weariness of months of skimping on essentials in an attempt to lift themselves out of debt, and their desire to have one last fling before going down. Sentencing the couple Judge Ronald Harrison ordered the couple attend counselling sessions as a condition of probation.


"Hi dear, how was your day? Glad to hear it. Mine. Oh, it was more or less as usual. We did have a very strange couple in this afternoon. Looked all posh, they did. And talked it too. But there was something not quite right about them. Still, they spent a fortune, so they can't have been all that bad. And paid by credit card too. Just when I thought they were going to pull out a check. Made my day, it did. It's the first time my sales' figures have even topped Sally's. She'll be green with envy tomorrow. Mind you, I'm glad you don't throw your money round like that. They didn't seem to care in the least."

Mrs. Danvers

What a perfectly lovely day. It did me so good to really let myself go and buy whatever I wanted; to have all those people fussing over me I think I can go back to skimping and scrounging again after that. It was just what I needed. I'm so lucky to have a fine upstanding man like Frederick to see to my every need. Well, I guess I'd better stop here, cause Frederick will be waiting for me to attend to a few of his needs. I wish, we didn't have to do this every time. But after all he's done for me, I can't let him go without.

Mr Danvers

On the move again. When will this stop, this infernal circle. Debt, skimp, binge and run. I'd better be getting down to the train station before the cards start bouncing sky high again. I reckon the police will have cottoned on by tomorrow morning, so it'll have to be a quickie tonight, and then off to the railway station before anyone knows any better.


"Well, look at that couple there, aren't they wonderful."

"What, you mean Mr. & Mrs. Danvers? Don't get caught up by them, Elsie. All that glitters is not gold, and if you ask me, them's more glitter than whatever's in their bank."

"But don't you think they look so wonderful together. Real in love, like. An he's so handsome."

Well, that's as maybe, but I wonder if she'll still be looking into his eyes like that through prison barriers, cause that's where they're going to end up one day, mark my words."


Mr. & Mrs Danvers are suffering from Acute Spending Syndrome (ASS) and in my opinion their condition will require specialist treatment before any progress is made. It is a recurrent feature of ASS that the sufferer will fight for weeks and even months to lift himself out of debt and the moment he has succeeded in this mammoth task, will immediately go on a spending spree, plunging himself once more into a vicious circle of misery and debt. Mr. & Mrs. Danvers present all the typical signs of the disease and it any therapy will probably require a period of at least 6-12 months.


Faced with insurmountable difficulties,
He jumps
No questions asked.

They say: He must be mad.
Maybe they're right;
More's the pity for them.

For they will never experience,
If they never dare.
Regret being the wages of their fare.

I stood outside Morgana's front door for at least ten minutes, trying to gather up the courage to knock. What wouldn't I have given for a good, stiff pint of Guinness right now. But I was on my own and any courage had to come from inside me. Standing there made me realise how easy I'd had things until now. Not once could I remember having to face up to a difficulty like this. I'd dived headlong into life and always come up trumps. I guess the great maker in the sky sort of liked me a little more than he did some others. But the downside of all that was that I didn't know how to face up to difficulties. So this was the acid test. Could I learn to face up to my mistakes?

Finally I knocked rather timidly at her door, and immediately followed it up with a far more forceful one. The door opened and Thérèse stepped out. "No need to break the door down. She's in the kitchen and she wants to see you. If you ask me, she must be mad, but there you are." And with a blighting gaze she set off down the road.

I advanced slowly along the passage of the house until I got to the kitchen. Morgana was sitting at the table, tears in her eyes and looking like death. My footsteps caused her to look up and at my sight her face crumpled once again. Her piteous look went right through my heart.

"I've come to say sorry. I behaved abominably." She fixed me with her eyes in a mysterious way, almost as if she couldn't understand what I had said. I tried to stammer a few more words but thought better of it. What more was there to say? And anything more might sound like self-justification. Suddenly her face lit up and the sun started shining through the tears. Looking at her like that I fully expected a rainbow to suddenly break out between her eyes. And maybe that's exactly what happened. Whatever, her joy gave me courage and somewhat sheepishly I stammered, "There's a lot more I want to say but now is not the time. Will you have dinner with me tonight?"

She seemed a little taken aback at the suggestion and hesitated before accepting. I wasn't to learn until that evening why, but I was nonetheless glad that she had said yes. To avoid querying eyes and wagging tongues we agreed to meet up in Besançon. She knew a quaint little Savoyard restaurant conveniently situated between the Conservatoire and the New Theatre which did a wonderful fondue and so I promised to phone and make reservations.

I left almost as quietly as I had arrived, but with an enormous load lifted off my shoulders. As I stepped onto the street, Thérèse was outside waiting.

"What did you say to her?"

"I merely apologised. What else could I say? I behaved like an ass and told her so." Why should I tell Thérèse that we had a dinner appointment? If Morgana chose to do so, that was fine, but she wouldn't find out from me.

"There's more sense in you than it seems," she quipped back. Obviously her antagonism was also on its way out. She took my arm and we walked down the street together. She decided to give me a few home truths about my behaviour but I stopped her once she got around to talking about Morgana.

"Please, Thérèse, not now. We can talk about it tomorrow. And maybe, I'll have a little surprise for you." Her quizzical look begged to be told more. But she had the good sense to keep quiet.

"I need a drink," she said as we passed John's pub and soon we were sitting in front of two cool, mouth-watering pints of Guinness and sharing some funny, light-hearted banter with Annie, when all of a sudden I saw Thérèse go pale as her eyes fixed themselves on the TV screen in the corner. I turned around and was confronted by Violette's face staring down at us from the silent object.

Standing in front of the photo George's mind went back those twenty years... back to Margaret smiling back at him as he captured her sunshine smile, her hair blowing slightly in the wind, her eyes sparkling as they teased with him. That had been their one date together and George had never understood why she'd never wanted to out with him again. They'd remained good friends, but every time he suggested something special, she'd declined.

What was she like now? Would he even recognise her? From his brother he knew that her lot had not been an easy one. If only... but regrets were of no use now. They had made their choices and lived their lives. And his hadn't been a bad one. If only he'd found that someone special to share it with. Reluctantly, his eyes left the vision in front of him. He was in no mood for browsing around the rest of the exhibition and so he turned and left, greeting the smart lady at the entrance desk in passing.

Margaret hadn't really noticed the stranger when he came in. Over the past few days she had seen too many different people to care. Maybe, some had been at school with her; in her class even. Strange that you can spend five or six years with someone and yet fail to recognise them twenty years later. Not that she'd ever had that good a memory for faces.

The stranger was now standing intently in front of her photo. That intrigued her. Was it someone she knew? Pity she couldn't see him properly from where she was standing.

George had been head over heels in love with her when he took that photo. And she'd enjoyed being with him. But when he asked her out again, she refused. "Slow and steady wins the race..." as the saying goes, but back then Margaret hadn't been interested in the slow and steady. She'd wanted excitement. And excitement was the one thing George didn't have to offer. So she'd looked elsewhere and found it; so much of it that she'd got burned, leaving her scarred for life.

As she looked, the man turned and made his way towards her. Greeting her kindly he stepped out into the street, whilst Margaret remained rooted to the spot in shock. And by the time she did react, it was once again too late.

Let's just hope for them both that all good things (including meetings) really do come in threes, and that the next will not be twenty years in the making.

Humble Pie

My feeling of buoyancy didn't take long to evaporate. And, once gone, it left me with a bitter feeling of loneliness and wretchedness, parallel to the way I sometimes felt when left alone after a particularly boisterous party and a lot of drink.

What had I done?

I spent the next thirty minutes battling against this question which kept laying siege to my mind. The last thing I was in the mood for was to face up to the reality of my situation. But eventually I succumbed. I guess I never really had any choice. Yet, my ego stood out against this eventuality for a fair amount of time before finally bowing to the inevitable.

Pictures of Morgana flashed through my mind. Morgana at the typewriter. Morgana patiently pointing out my mistakes, explaining how to say things correctly. Morgana and me playing tennis with ideas one of us had had, sending them back and forth with a bounce.

I had succeeded in alienating one of the best friends I had ever had. I had wounded and humiliated her. After all Morgana had done for me, I wasn't capable of showing any kind of understanding when she so obviously needed it. And now she was gone. There would be no one to help me with my French, to type all those official letters I hated doing, no one to laugh with during coffee break, no one...

And this final no one brought me up with a start. For the first time since I first met her, I realised what Morgana really meant to me; and it was something far more than a secretary or an office help I could rely upon more than anything else. Morgana was my friend. One of the truest friends I had found. She was someone I could trust, someone with whom I could be myself without fear of being rejected.

And now, she was gone. I had driven her away. I had been incapable of giving her that same understanding she so often lavished upon me. And it was now that I slowly started to understand her mysterious behaviour of the past few weeks... : her conduct after the meeting over the mayor's speech; the secret almost conspiratorial whisperings; the subtle hints
Thérèse occasionally dropped my way. There could only be one explanation. And fool that I was, I had destroyed the one person who loved me most, and whom, I now realised, I was beginning to love in return.

There was nothing for it. I had to see her at once. I had to show her I was sorry. It probably wouldn't help very much after my appalling conduct but she had to know I was sorry for everything I had done to her.

Yet, how could I show her, how sorry I was. Flowers, chocolates, a glass of wild honey - I knew she loved honey. No, I had to go as I was. No gift could replace what needed to be done. Humility and genuine sorrow were my only allies as I slowly made my way along the street towards her house.

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