It’s been a few weeks since I wrote about these guys, but I had a little time this afternoon.

“What you going to do?”

“Well, what can I do? The school want to see Beth and I, they’ve suggested next Tuesday”, retorted Paul, as he carefully rolled a joint.

“It’s a bit ironic, don’t you think?”

“Ironic? Why?”

“Well, Jake getting suspended for taking drugs while you’re lying here… taking drugs.”

“Ah… the beauty of being a grown-up. You want some?” Paul lit the joint and took a long drag.

“No thanks”, replied Anna, “that stuff will kill you.”

“Don’t be daft. A bit of puff on a Sunday morning won’t do any harm. But suit yourself.”

Anna knew that there was no point getting into this. It seemed that everybody of Paul’s age lit up now and again, but she’d keep her body clean.

Next Tuesday, the hearing. Paul travelled out from London to meet up with his son, Jake, and ex-wife Beth. The three sat outside the headmaster’s office, Paul and Beth feeling almost like naughty children themselves.

“Ah, Mr and Mrs Simpson, please come through”. An officious man came out to meet them. Beth no longer used Paul’s surname, but that didn’t seem important just now.

They were ushered into the headmaster’s tidy office, although Paul shut out most of what came next. Yeah, yeah, yada, yada. The school seemed to appreciate that there was only a limited amount that parents could do but were concerned about anybody of Jake’s age being seen to be smoking anything while they were dressed in school uniform.

“That could have been a lot worse”, Beth whispered to Paul as they left the office.

“Let’s just get the fuck out of here. Do you fancy grabbing a coffee? Come on Jake”, he commanded. Jake had remained seated outside the office during their meeting, but they now whisked him up as they left. “You’re suspended the rest of the week but are back next Monday”. Paul suspected that the school dealt with something like this every week, so if they did anything more, there’d soon be nobody left to teach!

A half-hour later, they all sat in Starbucks together. Jake was relieved that he hadn’t been in more trouble. “No trouble? You little sod! Your mum and I both had to take the afternoon off work because of this! You know we’d talked about going for a curry at the weekend with Anna? Forget it. And the Liverpool game. You might think you got off lightly with the school, but let’s hope *these* punishments will teach you a lesson.

They sipped the rest of their coffees in silence, and ten minutes later, Paul announced “Look, I’m gonna head off. I need to get back to London.” The station was only five minutes away. Preparing to leave, he agreed with Beth a time on Saturday morning when he would come back over to pick Jake up again. As a parting shot, he said ruefully to Jake:

“There’s a lesson in this, buddy. Let’s hope you learn it.”

“Don’t take drugs?”, suggested Jake.

“Don’t get caught.”, replied Paul.

I wrote some backgrounds to these characters below:

A New Case

for Fandango’s One Word Challenge(FOWC) of 29 October 2020, pertinent.

“What do you have on at the moment?”, asked Simon, as Anna entered his office. Pausing, he continued, “Actually, it doesn’t matter. I need you on this case. How long will it take you to park everything else?”

“This is good”, thought Anna. The company were starting to trust her. Rather than just being the trainee, she was starting to bring something to the party. “I can mothball it all in a few hours, if needs be”. “Okay, pencil a meeting in from 1 to 2 o’clock so I can brief you properly, but I’ll just give you a quick heads-up now.” “1 to 2?”, thought Anna. That would be a quick lunch! But still, as the new girl, she would have to look keen. “Did you see the news last night?”, continued Simon. “Did you hear about a guy called Salman Mohammed?” The name rang a bell. Where had she heard that name before? Leaving her no time, Simon answered his own question. “Refugee. Syria. Mr Mohammed has just had his asylum application rejected. I’ve just had a call from the woman who represented him, Vicky Masood. She wants to launch an immediate appeal and wants our help. She’s sending the case file over shortly, but I should be able to get her here in person by 1. I’ll forward the file as soon as it arrives, but if you’ve time, think of any questions you’d like to ask her.”

Anna now recalled the name clearly. They had featured this chap’s case on the news for a few minutes last night. “Okay. Yeah, I heard of him. They even had a quick sound-byte from the Home Secretary on last night. Standard sabre-rattling. Keep these islands safe, and all that.”

“Right. Your job is going to be to investigate Mr Mohammed’s background. My gut feel is that this case will turn on the fact that it’s not safe for him to go home. It’s gonna be down to you to find a persuasive argument that’s pertinent to Mr Mohammed. I’ll get Vicky here for 1. Be ready.”

As Anna left the office, Simon was already checking his emails.

I wrote a background to these characters here:


“Come on, you could do with some exercise! You’re not getting any younger.”

“Exercise? I’ll have you know that, as a schoolboy, I used to take my sport very seriously. I once played at Highbury**, you know.”

“That was thirty years ago, Paul. Look, all I’m saying is… try a session at the gym with me. Just the once, see how you get on.”

“Twenty-five”, snapped Paul.

It took a while, but Paul eventually came around. For the visit, he tried to look as sporty as he could – some jogging pants and trainers, that he had previously only worn indoors.

“Okay, how do you want to do this? Here are the weights, the treadmills are over along that wall… Shall we just split – I can do my workout and you can explore?”

Paul agreed. “Right, then”, said Anna, “I’ll start on the treadmill and I’ll come back and find you in a short while.”

Paul found the exercise bikes, perched himself on one, and started pedalling. He looked up at the clock – twenty past.

He pedalled strenuously, but just could not get comfy in the saddle. “Just a few more minutes”, he told himself. Somebody walked past carrying a cup of water. “Hmmm… that looks good”, he thought. “I’ll just do this for a few more minutes…”. He counted to 100 – that was close enough – then abandoned the bike and found the drinks fountain.

He looked around the gym. With mirrors on every wall, it was hard to tell real from reflection. Refreshed, he spotted a rowing machine. “Why not?”, he thought, as he headed over. He tried the machine out – “pah, this was easy, a simple flywheel” – as he started to row. Gaining confidence, Paul decided that this was too straightforward, and looked around for other challenges that the gym had to offer.

He was so busy looking at the different machines, he did not think to look at the clock, which would have said twenty-five-to. All these contraptions were strength-building somehow, but god knows how…

Having seen one of the machines in use, he decided to try that first. Simple. Just pushing weights up with his leg. Ah, okay, must be to strengthen his thigh. He pushed. “Bloody hell, that was tough” – it had been set by the previous user. He reduced the weight and pushed more comfortably. Oh, yes, he could do this, no worries.

Appetite whetted, Paul sought another machine. Looks like that was for arms – so he worked on his biceps. On a roll, Paul then found machines for his triceps, quads, and abs. Then, he had the idea to see how Anna was doing. When he spotted her, she was still on that same treadmill she’d started on. As he wandered towards her, he could see that she was pushing herself. “Jeez, doesn’t she feel dizzy?”, he muttered.

Anna saw him in the mirror and stopped. She removed her ear buds and breathlessly said, “Hi, hun. I’m just gonna do another twenty minutes on here, then some weights, then I’ll be with you. I’ll just do a quick one, today.”

Involuntarily, Paul looked up at the clock. It was a quarter-to. Twenty minutes? Weights? Quick?

“Fucking hell, I’m bored”, thought Paul.

* – One of the tenets of Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity is that time moves at different speeds for different observers.

** – Highbury used to be the 50,000-capacity stadium of the UK soccer team, Arsenal.

I wrote backgrounds to these characters in the following series of posts:


written for Fandango’s One Word Challenge (FOWC) of 6 October 2020, study.

To get this far into her career, Anna was no stranger to study.

She studied until the age of eighteen, before she even left her home in Lewes. She was usually top-of-the-class, until a math-genius called Katerina had joined the school. Anna still topped out in the literary subjects, however, and was sitting on a university offer from Newnham College, Cambridge, until she unexpectedly took her foot off the gas in her final year.

Her grades, however, were enough to enrol into a law degree at King’s College, London, where she spent the next four years. Mindful that her inattentiveness had cost her before, she was determined that it would not do so again and ended a two-year relationship just six months before her final exams. It might have been that the move paid off, as Anna graduated with a First.

However, a law degree is only the first hurdle toward becoming a lawyer, a general grounding in the subject. The first step after the degree would be obtaining a job, as a trainee, with a law firm. Anna’s father had certainly helped here – he was friends with the senior partner at Maynard-Fleischmann and managed to put Anna onto their radar. The rest, Anna did herself.

Maynard-Fleischmann were a small, London-based law firm, with an impeccable reputation in the field of human rights. Always on the lookout for new talent, they decided that this bright girl, who already had an interest in the human rights field, might be ideal.

There was one condition, however. With no hands-on experience in the field, they wanted Anna to spend a year on the ground, in the real world. While performing the apprenticeship, she would be paid 3/4 of her regular salary, and at the end of the year, they could both decide whether Anna was matched to the work.

Even after that initial year, Anna would not be a qualified lawyer. From that point on, she would be working at Maynard-Fleischman, but it would be an average of three more years, plus passing more exams, before she was qualified in her own right. It might be shorter – exceptional people managed it in two years – or longer, depending on the candidate – some people had still not passed, ten years later, and while there was no time limit, this was usually a sign.

I wrote a background to these characters below.


written for Fandango’s One Word Challenge (FOWC) of 5 October 2020, rivalry.

Anna could see that it had been necessary – to understand how a human rights organisation operated at ground level – but she had hardly used her law degree, so far. She kept quiet, but she would be happy when the stint with RightWay was over, and she could start her career proper with Maynard-Fleischmann.

The end of university had meant the dispersal of most of her friends. She had a core, plus some friends from her course, but many of her friends had left London to pursue their careers. There was a feeling of melancholy, when Anna was close to a place that a friend had once lived. Past tense. It was not deliberate, but Anna realised that she was increasingly spending time at home.

She had a pleasant enough time with her workmates, but she did not pursue friendships. She knew that she would be gone in a year, so her focus was on doing a good job, and to leave with a good report.

There was one guy, though. He was a bit older than her and had a very dry sense of humour. Paul, he was called. She got on well with him, although she did not think she flirted, and was surprised when he very awkwardly asked her out. Whilst this was not part of her plan, he made her laugh, and he might be a relaxing influence. So, mindful of office romances, she had warily agreed. It was just bowling, after all.

She still had in mind a clean break with RightWay, when the time came, but she could chance some fun in the meantime. Besides, he might help her get out of her house a little.

There had been a wobble at the start – despite his age seniority, he had been very insecure. When they finally slept together, it felt good. He had been her first partner in almost a year, and she suspected it was even longer for him. She learned that he was a divorcee with a pre-teen boy. She’d just as soon not meet the boy – what could they possibly have in common? – but, inch by inch, Paul and Anna gradually became an item.

As the weeks went by, Anna was conscious that it would soon be time to move on. She really should end this affair, but there was a snag – she had become fond of Paul. Torn between her career and her relationship, what should she do?

As we, the readers, know, Paul and Anna stayed together throughout Anna’s job change. The final clincher? Whilst she certainly thought that they might one day run their course, she did not feel that it would be right to manufacture their break-up there and then.

Proceed with caution!

I wrote a background to these characters below.


for Fandango’s One Word Challenge (FOWC) of 27 September, 2020, antipathy.

Paul and Anna originally worked together at the charity RightWay, where Paul was a campaign organiser, as Anna was an intern, a law graduate helping the legal effort. The campaign which threw them together surrounded a particular aspect of the refugee crisis.

Thanks to successive wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, refugees were a fact of life in Europe, often crossing the Mediterranean Sea to gain entry. Favourite routes included Libya to Italy, and Turkey to Greece. Paul’s involvement stemmed from a disaster on 18th April 2015, when a boat laden with an estimated 700 refugees had capsized in Libyan waters, just over 100 miles short of the Italian coast. It was presumed that over 600 were drowned, and subsequent Italian efforts rescued only around fifty survivors. These survivors sparked Paul’s campaign. There would soon be a legal battle in the Italian courts surrounding the fate of these survivors, and therefore hard cash was required to fight the case.

The project came with its fair share of problems. In the UK, the Mediterranean was a long way away. It was a holiday destination, a whole airline flight away. Little did people know that those same refugees, just a few short years later, would be attempting to cross the sea once again, this time the English Channel, into the UK itself. But in 2015, the public’s reaction was apathy, if not antipathy -everybody had other problems without people trying to manufacture more.

The project required some late nights at work, as Paul looked for some ingenious way of generating public interest in the issue. The charity was small, and Paul usually worked alone, although tonight some new girl on the legal side had stayed behind to help. Paul had an embryonic idea for a campaign, but before he presented it to the trustees, he needed to finalise their own legal obligations.

Shortly after 7 o’clock, Paul stretched himself in his chair. He was stiff from being seated so long. He pushed his papers away and let out a sigh. “I’m absolutely knackered”, he complained, “do you mind if we take five minutes?”. Anna was feeling tired herself, so Paul’s request was music to her ears. They agreed on getting a takeaway, doing another hour, then resuming tomorrow. The office had an alcove, a tiny kitchen, where there were a few menus on the wall. The weather outside was quite drizzly so straight away, the takeaway which delivered stood out. They both went straight to the vegan section of the menu. Paul was surprised.

– Vegan? You going veggie tonight?

– I’m always veggie.

Paul was suddenly more aware.

– Really? There aren’t many of us about.

– Yeah, in fact not just vegetarian, I try to eat vegan too.

Of course, this became a subject of conversation while they took their break. By the time they began working again, Paul had decided that this girl was indeed interesting. He would really have to learn her name!

I did some fact-checking before I wrote this piece. The vessel capsizing is unfortunately true. Date, location, losses… all true. The story I constructed around that event is pure fiction. As this one is almost a prequel, it is probably good standalone. But if anybody is interested, I built backgrounds to these characters below.

Day Out

for Fandango’s One Word Challenge (FOWC) of 26 September, 2020, frugal.

“Come on. You’ve already met them once. It’ll be easier this time. Plus, Zara’s back from their honeymoon, so we can go and visit them.” Anna was trying to convince Paul that it might be nice to go and spend the weekend with her parents, down in Sussex. With the promise of a day out in Brighton, Paul had agreed. Although Brighton was the other side of London, Paul had enjoyed the few times he had visited previously.

Coming straight across from work, Anna met up with Paul at Victoria Station, on the Friday evening, and the pair took the train down to Lewes. They were met by Anna’s dad, Henry, who drove them back to the family home. It was certainly calmer than the last time he had visited, thought Paul, now that Zara’s wedding was out of the way. Primed by Anna, nothing was said to make Paul feel uncomfortable, and the four of them had an enjoyable meal together that evening. Even Polly, the family’s Golden Retriever, got in on the act when she crept up and snuggled with Paul early Saturday morning.

After a lazy Saturday morning, Henry drove again, this time dropping them not far from the pier. They had been fortunate again with the weather, it was shaping to be a fine spring day. Brighton had changed a lot since Paul’s last visit – that enormous shopping mall had not been there, for a start. But it must have been, what, twelve years? They visited The Lanes – for any visitor, it is the law – and in mid-afternoon they found a small coffee shop. They had been nicely fed before they had left Anna’s parent’s, so only felt like a light snack.

“Don’t go overboard”, reminded Anna, “don’t forget we’re meeting Zara later.”

After the coffee break, with the promise that he could see all her childhood haunts, Anna convinced Paul to board an open-topped tour bus, which circuited the town. “That’s where I used to play hooky”, she informed Paul, as they passed a seafront penny arcade. Paul could not imagine that she had ever played hooky in her life. He could believe it when she pointed out the alley that she had been sick in, however, her teenage introduction to gin. With the tour almost over, Paul felt a nudge, “Come on”, prompted Anna, “this is our stop. Zara is not too far from here; we’ll be there in a jiffy”.

Ten minutes later, the sisters were greeting each other, and Paul found himself being led into a rather dingy house. It might have been student digs, apart from the crying baby. “That’s William”, explained Zara. “We tried to keep him awake all day in the hope that he’d have a nap when you arrived. He’s not playing ball. Hang on a minute and I’ll go see if I can help Dan put him down. Go on through”.

They moved through into the lounge, and as Paul made himself comfortable on the sofa, he took in the room around him. Very sparsely decorated, very frugal. The wallpaper was dated and the room had patches of damp. The tv in the corner looked at least ten years old. The evidence of children was clear – there was a playpen in the corner, full of toys, and a pile of children’s DVDs on the threadbare carpet, in front of the TV. The room had been freshly tidied.

As Anna and Paul tried to make out what was on tv, the noise of the baby subsided, and five minutes later they were greeted by Dan’s voice. “Anna! Paul!”. He reached over to peck Anna’s cheek. “Great you could come.” He was immediately joined by Zara. “I think he’s down. Lucas [the eldest son] was down like a light, but William’s [the younger] got a mind of his own. Come on Dan, quick…” she ushered Dan into the kitchen. “Get the kettle on before one of them wakes up.”

I’ve written a background to these characters, in the posts below.

The In-Laws

inspired by Fandango’s One Word Challenge (FOWC) of 18 September 2020, reconcile.

Where women were concerned, Paul’s mother, Mary, just wanted her son to be happy. There were various “nice to haves”, but in general, if Paul was happy… Even as a youngster, when he was seeing a woman, it tended to be a big deal – Paul did not go much for “casual”. She had seen him marry Beth, incredibly young, but she seemed to be a stabilising influence on him, although Mary no longer saw as much of him.

When grandson Jake arrived, she was ecstatic. Wasn’t it about time?

But then came the divorce. Divorce was not really a word in Mary’s vocabulary – socially conservative,  she believed that life was life, although she had sufficient experience to know that relationships are never as smooth as we would like. In the months following the divorce, she had witnessed Paul retreat into his shell. He argued that it was a good thing, but she saw the negative effects.

Mary learned about Anna, therefore, in dribs and drabs. The biggest indicator was when she happened to see a shirt, which clearly belonged to a woman, on the floor in Paul’s bedroom. Paul would tell her in his own time, but she was pleased he was meeting people again.

Over the next couple of weeks, Mary teased information from Paul, little by little, until it became an established fact. Paul could have guessed what would come next – Mary would like to meet this new woman.

It took a few more weeks, but Paul convinced Anna to meet Mary. Apart from Jake, she would be the first “family” person anybody had met. The date was set for a Sunday lunch, one weekend when Jake was staying with Paul – all three would meet and head to Mary’s. Mary would provide the main course, Paul dessert.

On the day itself, Anna had slight butterflies, but really, she need not have worried. So long as Paul liked her, it did not matter to Mary.

I’ve written a background to these characters, in the posts below.

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