Wednesday, 25 July 2012

News about your ticket

It's a daily ritual, the last thing I do before I go into the office and turn on my work head for the day. Each morning I reach into the side pocket of my oversized satchel and pull out my phone to check for any messages.

Today there are three small symbols at the top; one telling me I've missed a call from Philip, another saying there's a voice-mail message. I guess that's probably from Philip too, so I make a mental note to listen to it once I'm at my desk.

The third symbol is the small envelope that tells me I've got an e-mail, I click it open as I step into the lift and see that it's from The National Lottery. In the subject heading are just four words:

"News about your ticket!"

When you buy your lottery tickets on line, there's an e-mail announcement each time you win - no matter how small the prize. And it's surprising how often that happens if you buy a ticket every week. So I smile in recognition at the message. I know I can't check the outcome at work, our web administrators would never allow access to a gambling site, but I'm not too bothered, it's never been more than £10 before. I don't expect it to be any more today, so I make a mental note to check when I get home again, then I step out of the lift and head for my desk, calling out a slightly more cheerful than usual "good morning!" to everyone as I pass. After all, you never know...

It's a busy day, and my morning passes in a whirl of e-mails and meetings, checking papers and chatting things through. It barely seems like five minutes later when my phone rings, and I realise it's almost lunchtime.

"Is it five past twelve?" teases one of my colleagues. They all know that a phone call at 12.05 is almost always from Philip. It's another daily ritual and they all know how pleased I am to take the call, even when I'm in the middle of a work conversation; even when all I can do is tell him I'll call him back.

After I put the phone down again, I realise I've forgotten to tell him that we might be millionaires. For the next half hour, while I'm gazing at my computer screen, I think about how I'd tell him. I imagine the excitement, the wild schemes we'd dream up, the plans we'd make for spending our fortune. I look around the office and wonder what I'd say to colleagues here. A small part of me wonders if I'd even come back to tell them.

A while later, my daughter texts me, asking when I'm coming to visit. I can't help but think of all the time I could spend with her and my grandchildren if I were really a millionaire. From there, my mind wanders to gifts for my family, houses for sale, a week in a Paris apartment with friends, and a year travelling the world to watch every Grand Prix. I answer an e-mail and think about the sort of job I'd do if I didn't have to worry about paying the mortgage.

As the day passes, thoughts of riches recede. I crawl home along an M25 already made sticky by Olympics traffic without even imagining the red Ferrari that would make the journey more bearable. I get home and potter about; putting on the washing, hoovering up the cat fur. I carry the empty bottles out to the car for recycling, without a thought for the fleet of staff every millionaire employs. I walk out into the garden and feel the warmth in the late evening sunshine, without even comparing it to the Greek island villa my new wealth might acquire.

It's not until after dinner that I remember the e-mail. I log in, and in no time at all know my fate. With a wry smile I acknowledge that £8 won't quite get me a Ferrari. It won't quite change my life.

Then I look over at Philip, sitting on the sofa in his shorts and vest, swearing at the news about the Olympics, typing away madly on his laptop.

He looks across and smiles, "Gin and tonic?" he offers. And then it's only a very small step to realising that my life really doesn't need changing.

Saturday, 14 July 2012


I saw her on our first day at the beach, standing waist-deep in the water just a few yards from the shore. Her skin, a dark mahogany hue, seemed an unnatural shade of brown, at odds with the pale blonde hair she’d tied back beneath a faded denim cap.

Each day after that, I watched her standing there, though I don’t think she ever noticed me, or anyone else; her gaze focused on the water that rippled round her hips. At first I didn’t understand what caught and held her attention; I thought it strange that she never looked up to the horizon, neither out to sea, nor back towards the beach.

Then I noticed the small plastic bag she’d carried with her and I watched as she pulled out a crust of hard Greek bread and held it just below the surface of the sea. In seconds, the water’s gentle lapping became a broiling cauldron and though I couldn’t see them from where I sat, I knew that just below the surface there were dozens of small fish fighting to get close to the dangling crust.

In no time, the bread had all been eaten, but still the water continued to churn. She lifted and flicked her hands; it was almost the gesture of a magician, but I wondered if the fish had reached the end of the crust then kept nibbling, teeth clinging, to the ends of her fingers.

After a while, she returned to the sunbeds at the water’s edge. Each day, she picked her way carefully over the shingle to the same spot, the same two beds, one empty under the bright sun, one occupied by the man who waited. Sheltering beneath an umbrella, protected from the heat, his skin was all shiny-pink and mosquito-bitten. His eyes were hidden behind dark glasses, the glasses focused on his kindle; I never saw him look towards the sea, or watch her return from the water. I never saw him speak.

When I went for a swim just after her, the water was still full of shimmering, shimmying fish. I stood for a while and watched them circle around me, just as they had around her, weaving and dancing, drawn closer and closer.

Later, as I sat eating a sandwich, in my own spot on the beach, I looked over to where she lay, eyes closed, face to the sun. I saw him, curled on one side, his back towards her, his kindle held close. As my fingers held on to the crust of the hard Greek bread, I had an almost irresistible urge to cross over and give it to her, I wanted to tell her to dangle it just above his mouth. I wanted to see him shimmer and shimmy, dance around for her attention. I wanted her to force life back into her own cold fish.