November 13th

Here's this morning's message for you:


Number of children: 3. Number of times married: 1. Number of times engaged: 2. Number of times you have sex each week: 1.5. Number of houses lived in: 6. Number of bedrooms slept in: 48. Number of facials you have had: 2. Number of manicures: 2. Number of meals you cook each week: 18. Number of times you’ve said to yourself, ‘I’ve got to change the way I think about things’: 623. Units of alcohol you drink each week: 29. Number of handbags you own: 11. Number of matching shoes: 0. Number of close friends: 3. Number of husband’s friends you really like: 3. Number of socks you pulled out of the washing machine yesterday: 37. Number of times you were cut off when you called Comet about the delivery of your new fridge: 3. Number of times each day you don’t say what you really want to say: 6. Number of mothers at the school gate you really like: 2. Number of times this week you opened a bottle of wine before six o’clock: 3. Number of pieces of toast you burned this morning: 4. Number of living parents: 1. Number of telephone calls from living parent each week: 15. Number of expensive lacy underwear sets you own: 2.5. Number of cars: 3. Number of children you’d prefer right now: 1. Number of things you wanted to do before you were thirty that you still haven’t done: 19. Number of tiles on the wall in front of you: 36 blue, 24 orange, 28 green. Number of splits in your rubber gloves: 1. Number of yellow roses in the vase on the table: 12. Number of cards: 15. Number of birthdays you’ve had: 39. Number of years you think you’ll live: 82. Number of days: 29,950. Number of hours: 718,800.


  1. She couldn’t stand that programme, the cheerful doo-doo, doo-doo, doodley-doo telling the contestants that time was up. What makes someone want to test in front of the camera? Didn’t they have anything better to do with their lives? She would flick over to another channel and it would be Tot’s TV, Teletubbies or something about selling off all your old crap for money. It seemed to her that this time of day was reserved for waiting for their lives to end or for them to begin. Just counting down or up.

    What did everyone else do at this time? She looked out of the living room window. Throughout the day, the comings and goings from the fronts of the semis opposite marked a ticking over of time relatively unchanged by the seasons except in the colour and number of leaves. Number 3 was a plumber with a white van, Number 5 had a moustache and was very white haired for his age whilst his wife had long, bushy red hair always tied back, Number 7 had twins, a boy and a girl and two people carriers (she also had bushy hair), Number 9 cleaned his windows a lot, Number 11 was that odd man, fairly elderly, who wore shorts right into winter and a knee support because he used to be a tennis coach. She couldn’t see Number 13 and maybe that was a good thing.

    When she was little she had used counting to make things happen when she was on her own. She would sit at the rocking chair by the big window; if a car came around the corner by the time she got to 10 (any car at all would do), then Mummy would get home from work without crashing.

    She wondered if anyone else watched.

  2. - Hello love
    - Hi Mum, I wasn’t expecting you to call.
    - Of course I’d call, how could I not, today of all days?
    - I didn’t know that you’d be able to; it’s so great to hear your voice.
    - Now, tell me all about it, what was the weather like? What did you wear? I want all the details.
    - It was a bit drizzly, but we were fine standing outside until the car arrived.
    - I do hope you didn’t wear those awful jeans!
    - Of course not Mum, I wore my smart suit, you know the one I got in the M&S sale. You came with me, remember?
    - I’m glad to hear that. Did many people make it? Did you get a good seat?
    - It was packed! Of course I had a seat at the front with Dad.
    - And how’s he?
    - Today was a bit much for him, I think. He’ll be ok though, we’ll make sure of that. But of course he’s really missing you.
    - I wish I could have been there with you all, properly I mean.
    - Me too Mum, the kids still don’t understand. Gemma keeps asking when you’re coming home.
    - Tell them I love them.
    - I will.
    - And tell your Dad I love him too…now, what about the flowers?
    - Ahh they were gorgeous, I wish you could have seen them, there was every colour you could imagine. I took loads of photos.
    - What flowers did you and your brother send?
    - Ours was a huge purple one. You would have loved the colour, it was just like the jacket that Dad bought you last Christmas. It spelt out MUM.
    - Thanks love, I’ve got to go now, but I’ll be keeping an eye on you. Look after your Dad and those kids for me. Don’t forget I love you.
    - Bye Mum.

  3. You’re doing it again, and this time by numbers. And what if we go phonetic for a spell? Won, too? Tree? I love trees and that makes me glad I can’t lisp. For. For what? 5? Got me there. Can I rhyme? How about skive? I’ll go German for sex. 7? Has to be heaven, but I really love ate. Just to clarify, I hate ‘ate. Germanic No! then. And can I sneak in a big fat hen? (0 responsibility taken for PC or not 2.)

    It’s not really the numbers, it’s the words. I get calls from dead parents since they always come through when I’m not engaged. Hubby loves wearing jungle-green lace, so no more talk of undies, please. Rubber gloves? But darling, I only wear mink, synthetic of course. Basically, though in any pack there are just a bunch of jokers. Did I mean to say that? I’m surrounded by tiles which makes it easy to clean the ice-box. Who needs a fridge anyway? Sox? Much prefer sex, but that’s kind of hard in the washing machine. I don’t live in a house, so that takes care of the bedrooms. I don’t have a handbag, but I do have a couple of very close friends; ok, some are my husband’s. I do not drink alcohol in units. Not everything needs to be metric! I don’t count birthdays and have lost track of parties. I prefer red to blue, orange and green. There’s a school next door, but no one stops at the gate. They all go inside for there’s safety in numbers. Yet crowds really scare me. Has that got something to do with the Comet? I do not cook. Why do you think HE gets to wear the jungle-greens? Sorry, my slip. But then, I’m immortal.

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  5. She can pinpoint the time when birthdays stopped being perfect. She was 22. She once told a friend this, and they laughed and said God, I was about seven I think, so she knows 21 happy birthdays isn’t bad, but all the same. Those 21 set up an expectation she still can’t quite banish, despite years of disappointment.

    This year it’s even worse, and not just because 40 means tipping over into another decade. She was browsing on a statistical website yesterday and found a table of life expectancies. At first she was cheered to find that your expected age of death goes up every year, so you don’t use up a whole year of expected life between one birthday and the next. So a girl’s life expectancy at birth is 79.6 years, but a woman of 80 still has an average of 9.0 years left. Even at 100 women can expect to live 2.25 more years – presumably because only the healthiest, hardiest old birds are still going then.

    There’s bad news too, though. It turns out this is the last birthday when she has more years ahead than behind. Her life expectancy today is 41.1 years, meaning she can expect to live to 81.1. Although by next birthday she’ll have gained 0.3 years of total life expectancy, she’ll only have 40.4 years left. That means that some time in the next year, one ordinary unsuspecting day, is statistically the middle of her life.

    Suddenly she knows what she’ll do. She’ll work out when that day is, and plan the most spectacular midlife crisis. It’ll be her own midsummer madness: a nacissictic, orgiastic, bacchanalian celebration to make up for all those unhappy birthdays. And then she’ll make damn sure the second half of her life is better than the first.

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  7. Oh, I’m awake. What time is it? I shall open an eye and look at my clock. Half past seven.

    I like my clock. I got it for my ninth birthday. It is red, with yellow bells on top, and a golden hammer bangs them when the alarm goes off. I don’t like alarms, but I need one on school mornings. I must not be late for school.

    I’ve opened the other eye now, and can see my lovely wallpaper. My brother said it was girly and horrible. But I like the pretty flowers. I also like my pink carpet, my pink bookshelves, and my pink lampshade with dangly bits around the bottom. My brother has the room next door. I’m glad we don’t have to share any more. I like my room.

    Now that I am awake, I am thinking about my dream. I was grown up, with children of my own. My mother was dead, and I was the mother. It was very real, and a bit strange; but it must have been a dream, because I am here, in my room.

    Ooh, it’s nice and warm under my pink duvet. I can hear the starlings on the guttering outside. One of them is being a telephone. Very good. I can hear the storage heater clicking too.

    There are other sounds now, from my brother’s room. His door opens and I can hear footsteps on the landing. He won’t come in here. He's not allowed in here.

    But it is not my brother. I know this, because I really am awake now.

    The handle turns, and a small face appears.

    ‘Hello, Mummy. Can we go downstairs and watch Grandpa’s telly?’

    This might be only one of forty-eight bedrooms I have slept in, but this one is mine.


  8. My son came home from school yesterday with news that his friend`s finger had been needled. He was using a sewing machine in school and an ambulance had to be called to take him away. The shock on his face made a noise in my brain that nearly made me deaf.
    He sits awkwardly at my machine complaining that he doesn`t have to sew until next term. "I won`t turn it on. Just want to introduce you to a few of the parts, so you won`t be scared." I turn the wheel and the needle jumps up and down playfully. He bolts from the chair and legs it upstairs, slamming his room door shut.
    Why can`t I trust teachers to do their jobs? I immediately think of three reasons. Number of children in the class: 30. Number of machines in the class: 30. Number of teachers in the class: 1.
    The secretary informs me that the headteacher is in a meeting but she`ll get back to me with his answer as soon as she can. "I am professionally trained," I explain.
    That`s sorted. There is a loosening of the grey thoughts that climb around my mind on invisible ladders. I make myself a cup of tea and reach into the cupboard for a ginger nut. I take four.
    During dinner I tell my son he needn`t worry as I`ll probably be allowed to come into school to help. He puts down his knife, his fork, gives up his seat, walks over to the machine and flings it to the floor. "I don`t want to sew. You`re so dumb!" he spits.
    I write a note next morning to smear yesterday`s telephone words away. I HAVE GOT TO CHANGE THE WAY I THINK ABOUT THINGS.I leave my signature at the bottom.

  9. ..718,800; hours left: 377160.
    3; 1; 2; 1.5; 6; 48; 2; 2; 18; 623;
    29; 11; 0; 3; 3; 37; 3; 6; 2; 3; 4;
    1; 15; 2.5; 3; 1; 19; 36; 24; 28;
    1; 12; 15; 39; 82; 29,950;
    718,800; 377159.
    3; 1; 2; 1.5; 6; 48; 2; 2; 18; 624;
    29; 11; 0; 3; 3; 37; 3; 6; 2; 3; 4;
    1; 15; 2.5; 3; 1; 19; 36; 24; 28;
    1; 12; 15; 39; 82; 29,950;
    718,800; 377158.
    3; 1; 2; 1.5; 6; 48; 2; 2; 18; 625;
    29; 11; 0; 3; 3; 37; 3; 6; 2; 3; 4;
    1; 15; 2.5; 3; 1; 19; 36; 24; 28;
    1; 12; 15; 39; 82; 29,950;
    718,800; 377157.
    3; 1; 2; 1.5; 6; 48; 2; 2; 18; 626;
    29; 11; 0; 3; 3; 37; 3; 6; 2; 3; 4;
    1; 15; 2.5; 3; 1; 19; 36; 24; 28;
    1; 12; 15; 39; 82; 29,950;
    718,800; 377156.
    3; 1; 2; 1.5; 6; 48; 2; 2; 18; 627;
    29; 11; 0; 3; 3; 37; 3; 6; 2; 3; 4;
    1; 15; 2.5; 3; 1; 19; 36; 24; 28;
    1; 12; 15; 39; 82; 29,950;
    718,800; 377155.
    3; 1; 2; 1.5; 6; 48; 2; 2; 18; 628;
    29; 11; 0; 3; 3; 37; 3; 6; 2; 3; 4;
    1; 15; 2.5; 3; 1; 19; 36; 24; 28;
    1; 12; 15; 39; 82; 29,950;
    718,800; 377154.
    3; 1; 2; 1.5; 6; 48; 2; 2; 18; 629;
    29; 11; 0; 3; 3; 37; 3; 6; 2; 3; 4;
    1; 15; 2.5; 3; 1; 19; 36; 24; 28;
    1; 12; 15; 39; 82; 29,950;
    718,800; 377153.
    3; 1; 2; 1.5; 6; 48; 2; 2; 18; 630;
    29; 11; 0; 3; 3; 37; 3; 6; 2; 3; 4;
    1; 15; 2.5; 3; 1; 19; 36; 24; 28...

  10. ‘I’m sorry madam, but this is just a procedure we have to go through’
    ‘Why is it taking 3 hours though?’
    ‘We have to do this’
    ‘I can’t believe this, I can’t remember where I’ve visited…look I’ve got some photos on my camera, look here, see?’
    ‘Ok, go back to Masada’
    ‘What? That’s going take at least 15 minutes, it’s almost at the beginning’
    ‘We have time’

    Number of times the back arrow pressed: 100. Number of times the Girl in blue asked if she was there yet: 10. Number of hours questioned: 3.

    Sandra stood there rooted to the floor as she went through those photos. She stopped briefly at the ones of the sea as they calmed her nerves a little. Eyes penetrated her back as she skipped pass ones she knew came long after those of Masada. Nothing prepared her for this, not even that last sumptuous lamb dish hastily gorged down with the luscious taste of rare fruits in a bottle too large for her small hands to hold.

    She vaguely remembered the places she visited. She simply gawked and walked on. Had she known she’d be asked numerous questions repeatedly on her personal status, situation and reasons for going there, she’d have prepared her list well beforehand.

    Marge her marriage guidance councillor had already put her through all this and more just before she had broken up with Tony. The split had been coming yet she hadn’t seen it until he paid her fare home one night from Bingo. She’d won £50 and some tinned fruits which she was going to serve as desserts when they got home. The taxi driver was unusually silent on the drive home. Tony averted his eyes from meeting hers on the numerous occasions she tried to gage his attention.


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  12. Six times a day you don't say what you really want to say. That's 42 things every week, or 168–186 every month, or 2190 every year. Unless it's a leap year, in which case it's 2196. Although that's not more than two thousand different things each year that you want to say but don't, because some of them are repeated. Like 'don't be rude,' because they will, or 'shut up,' because he won't. You want to say those things most days, but you don't, any more. You've learned that they don't make any difference.

    Some things you don't say because they would make a difference. Like 'I don't want to be married to you any more.' You want to say that two or three times a week on average, but you don't want to deal with the upheaval it would cause, and that outweighs your desire to speak your truth.

    Sometimes you don't say what you really want to because you can't be arsed to deal with him accusing you of giving mixed messages. Like he's some kind of saint when it comes to consistency. Yeah, right. It's always a mixed message when you want sex and he doesn't, or vice versa. And it's always you giving it. If you try to point out that he wants sex sometimes and not other times, and surely the best way to deal with that is to talk about it and work something out between you, he looks at you as if you're speaking baboon language. So you don't speak about that any more. You've started to find other ways to communicate. Wordless ways he can hear.

    Perhaps there are other wordless ways to communicate that would make a difference. Like if you used the really sharp knife, or maybe the axe.

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  15. 5 cats, one rat, 300-odd stick insects, 2 soon-dead fish and a snail. 2 miscarriages, one curled white like shell. One recurring dream about leaving them behind.

    3 laparoscopies, 2 c-sections. Strictly speaking, no broken bones.

    About 5 weeks by your bedside in four different cities: collapsed lung, cancer, kidney stones.

    One peaceful death when we were all there. Then the 2 that most mattered when I was in another country. For the first, 9 birds fly over. 6 weeks later a single cloud pauses, releasing a few drops of rain.

    8 teeth extracted, 2 fillings. 3 years of braces. 28 years of contact lenses. Sunblock, hair colouring, lipstick. No plastic surgery. Yet.

    35 years of ballet, who would believe. 2 car crashes. 50 physio appointments. Whiplash, torn hamstring, ripped ligaments, bone spurs and frayed cartilage. Arthritic knees.

    12 lovers: 10 men, 2 women. 3 the same day, one sneaking in my bedroom window. 4 one night stands, and 3 repeating the mistakes. Not counting near misses. No STDs, abortions. One probable rape, only no one knew anything about it then.

    One long engagement, one husband: you. 8 houses together. 2 bouts of food poisoning, 6 tummy bugs. Innumerable colds. One flu each. And everything else, see above. 7 nightmares from which we wake each other again and again.

    22 years together. One garden, one table, 3 cars, several floors. One ladder. The kitchen, sitting room, bedrooms, spare room, shed. Once – almost – on grassland. Over 2,000 by my reckoning.

    2 astounding children, unexpected blessings. 2 hands just like mine, birthmark on the same leg. 2 of my skinny wrists, and thick red-brown hair. Your eyes. Your music, my words. One future where anything might happen, see above.

    Perhaps too few prayers. A number of secret hopes. Daily surprises.

    (Patricia Debney)

  16. What was the point of that phone call? Did you intend to upset her to the point of hysteria? “I’m visiting,” you said. It might be convenient to you but you didn’t care that your daughter had spent all week with a friend in hospital, the week before that with her stepdaughter in hospital, and this week with her partner in hospital.

    Perhaps that was the point. A little melodrama because her attention isn’t on you? Do you feel neglected now that you’ve moved to another country because your new husband felt threatened by your family and wanted to be out of range of casual visits by anyone other than his own perfect sons, perfect daughters?

    Yours are far from perfect, according to him. Your daughter is a -- let’s lower our voices here -- lesbian and your youngest son is more interested in travelling the world and opening a bar in Greece than settling down with .4 children and a job in insurance. At least your middle child meets with his approval. Bully for John.

    Your granddaughter’s gone the same way as her mother and moved in with her girlfriend. You blame us, naturally. It must be nurture that turned a normal heterosexual girl who was mentally abused by her boyfriend into a happy woman who found love where she didn’t expect it. Your husband told her to settle down with a boy and forget all the nonsense about same-sex relationships and was then surprised and dramatically offended when her globetrotting uncle told him to ’have a nice cup of shut the feck up.’

    You’re coming to visit, I hear? Odd that you only wan to see your daughter and granddaughter with no partners or other family. We’ll all move out, shall we? Her wyves, step-daughters, lovers and friends.

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  18. Candidates must answer the following question to the best of their ability

    Marks will be deducted or added for self-delusion

    Time allowed: as long as it takes

    Candidates may NOT confer

    On the paper (not provided) write down the number of birthdays you have had, then take away the number of birthdays you can remember. Now, add the number of times you have been called beautiful and multiply by the times that you have believed it, then take away the number of times you have been mistaken. Next, divide the sum by the number of dreams you had as a child and multiply by the number that remain with you. Add this figure to the number of times over the past month that you have sighed audibly, over the number of times you have sighed inwardly. Next, subtract the average between the number of times you have said I love you and meant it, the number of times you have said I love you and not meant it, and the number of times you have not said I love you and still wish you had. Now, multiply this by the square root of all the hair you have lost since your twenty-fifth birthday, minus the wrinkles that you have only just begun to notice. Add this figure to sum of the tears that you have shed, expressed as a percentage of the tears that you have not shed, divided by all the things you have lost, over all the things to which you cling (either willingly or unwillingly) in the night when you are alone. Now, round this up – or down – to the nearest whole number. Finally, burn the paper.

    Is the answer:
    a) The first snowflake on your tongue as you hold your lover close to you?
    b) Nothing?

  19. I loved this one, Oz!

  20. 'Oh God yes, we're always shouting out for volunteers. Our books are chock-a-block right now, what will all those EU countries ...'

    I realise I need to take down some notes and start scribbling at the rate of noughts.

    'It's all very friendly and informal here at the Centre, emphasis on the friendly, of course. It's so important to make our clients feel comfortable and at ease at all times. The one-to-one sessions are very much in demand right now. But they can be a bit intimidating and also rather intensive. If you're free tomorrow afternoon around 2ish, why don't you pop in? That particular session lasts for 3 hours.

    I ask how many people are taught in tomorrow's session.

    'Oh, heavens, let me think now. Four. Definitely four. There's that nice young Chinese chap, there's the two Polish girls with completely unpronounceable surnames ... and then there's also a mature student, who's unfortunately showing dyslexic symptoms. As the session is so intensive, we do enjoy a five minute coffee break in the middle. Or tea, if you prefer, of course. We're nothing if not adaptable here at the Centre. Adaptability is our middle name. Funds are dreadfully limited, of course, so we can only produce a newsletter every 6 months.'

    She rumbles on like the 7 o'clock inter-city from Paddington. No stopping.

    'We do enjoy the odd social evening run by our volunteers. Young Jenny, bless her, won a box of After Eights in last year's Christmas raffle and she hasn't been the same girl since. In fact, there's one next weekend. Come along. Starts around 9 and finishes when the janitor sees fit to throw us out ...'

    I say I need some time to think.

    There's an audible silence as if she's mentally counting to 10.

  21. Number of years she’s lived by the level crossing: 11. Number of anxious glances through sitting-room window: 20,000. Number of people seen throwing litter out of their cars: 1,774. Proportion male to female: about equal. Number of mothers who’ve instructed their children to throw litter out of car: 37. Number who’ve prevented kids from doing same: 12. Years of passive fury: 3. Years of good citizenship (picking up other people’s litter, putting it in own black dustbin bag): 4. Years before she bought special notebook to compile statistics: 5 (but she was already using a pad of lined A4 paper). Number of dead cats thrown out of cars: 1. Number of live kittens: 2. Flowers in cellophane: 1 bunch. Objects giftwrapped and partly unwrapped: 7. Mobile phones: 1. Paperback books: 4. Number of times she’s gone out front to remonstrate with offending party: 52. Apologies received: 2. Angry responses: 41. Ditto including personal insults: 29. Threats of violence: 8. People who’ve got out of car to threaten violence: 5. Attempted strangling by demented woman: 1. Heart attack: 1, suffered by middle-aged male litterbug. Sob stories: 14. Friends made: 3. Sexual offers (as distinct from threats): 7. Marriage proposals: 1 (by next-door neighbour). Number of times she’s stuffed litter back through car window: 75. Number of times it’s been chucked straight out again: 32. Number of times her action ignored: 14. Pieces of litter incorporated into artworks: 310. Of these, crisp packets 58, sweet wrappers 104. Artworks created, not all including litter but mainly litter-inspired: 49. Artworks sold, including non-litter-related ones: 38. Exhibitions: 1. Invites to give talks, including to schoolchildren: 6. Age: 50. Number of lines on face (while calm and non-smiling, on good day): 19. Number of lines attributable to litter or dead cat/live kittens: probably most of them.

  22. How many Christmases have we spent together? It must be 34 by now not counting the one when I took Liz to Harare to see Mum after Dad died, and our plane lost the use of an engine and landed suddenly in Angola and they kept us in the old disused airport building in the boiling heat with no proper food and stinking dirty toilets, watching while the crew disappeared into the distance. They put us into buses to take us places before finding another plane to complete our journey, but no one told us anything. They said there was wine and beer in the back and we could help ourselves and the soldiers of fortune going to the Congo made good use of it. We must have gone 50 miles and the buses kept racing each other and it wasn’t a dual carriageway either, overtaking and then lagging behind and rushing to overtake again so we could look at the faces in the other bus right next to our own as if we were in the same seat on the same bus. We ended up outside a place that looked like a no star hotel and when we stopped an exhausted woman with four children got out and said ‘I want to see the manager’, but it was a military base and we were all herded into Nissan huts, men and women segregated but one man who had a bad heart refused to leave his wife and we all stripped off to bra and pants because of the unbearable heat and lay on these metal beds ...

    We got to Harare two days late and no one had known where we were. For a while I couldn’t recall the name of the place we came from. Kinshasa, Kinshasa, Kinshasa.

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  24. Number One took my virginity
    Number Two took me for a ride
    Number Three told me he loved me
    Number Four told me he was sorry
    Number Seven gave me hope
    Number Eight gave me crabs
    Number Nine ran a shop
    Number Ten ran away
    Number Eleven swept me off my feet
    Number Twelve swept the streets
    Number Thirteen held my hand
    Number Fourteen held me down
    Number Fifteen tried to help
    Number Sixteen tried too hard
    Number Seventeen made me laugh
    Number Eighteen made me bleed
    Number Nineteen left me wanting more
    Number Twenty left me broke
    Number Twenty-One worked hard
    Number Twenty-Two couldn’t work it out
    Number Twenty-Three wanted to take me away
    Number Twenty-Four wanted it his way
    Number Twenty-Five thought the world of me
    Number Twenty-Six thought with his dick
    Number Twenty-Seven believed in God
    Number Twenty-Eight believed he was God
    Number Twenty-Nine came on my tits
    Number Thirty came too late
    Number Thirty-One tasted of chocolate
    Number Thirty-Two tasted a better life
    Number Thirty-Three knew me inside out
    Number Thirty-Four knew it all
    Number Thirty-Five showed me a good time
    Number Thirty-Six showed me the door
    Number Thirty-Seven taught me to dance
    Number Thirty-Eight taught me a lesson
    Number Thirty-Nine loved animals
    Number Forty loved his dog more
    Number Forty-One put me on a pedestal
    Number Forty-Two put me down
    Number Forty-Three chased rainbows
    Number Forty-Four chased me away
    Number Forty-Five reminded me to follow my dreams
    Number Forty-Six reminded me of my dad
    Number Forty-Seven wore his heart on his sleeve
    Number Forty-Eight wore me out
    Number Forty-Nine couldn’t get enough
    Number Fifty couldn’t get it up
    Number Fifty-one read me poetry
    Number Fifty-two read my mind
    Number Fifty-three died his hair
    Number Fifty-four died
    Number Fifty-five is at home
    Number Fifty-six is unknown.


  25. Close the front door. Push hard to check it is locked. Walk to end of front path. Return to front door and push it again. Walk back to the pavement. Return to check door again.

    You have to check the front door three times before you can go to work. Then you can finally walk down the road, counting the paving stones as you go and taking care not to step on the lines. You carefully stride over two side roads before arriving at the pedestrian crossing. Pressing the button, you study the passing cars until the green man appears.

    It is twenty steps up to the open-air tube station platform. You walk past the shelter and count the concrete posts of the wire fencing beyond. You need to stand by the third one, then you will be in the right carriage. A slow train comes first, so you must change at the fifth station. You carefully get out and cross to the other side of the platform, making sure to stand directly opposite where you stepped from the first train. You become mesmerized by the train indicator counting down the minutes until your connection arrives.

    Four more stations. Arriving at your destination, you find the door of the carriage is directly opposite the exit, just as you had planned. Alongside the ascending escalator, bright posters advertise luxury shopping opportunities and shows. Most commuters ignore them, yet you are silently counting down on your fingers.

    Out on the busy street there are just too many people, you can’t even see the paving stones. Instead you check your watch. Exactly ten minutes to the office. On arrival you head straight to the toilets, where you carefully wash your hands. Always three times.

    This evening you will do it all in reverse.

  26. Sucker. Only you would carry on waiting out here, counting the minutes and having a conversation with yourself.

    You’re so gormless. It’s been nearly an hour - that couple went in after him didn’t they? They’ve registered already. God, they’re staring, wondering why you’re loitering outside a stadium the day before a triathlon. You’re so clearly not an athlete. They probably think you’re scoping the bikes out so you can steal one. Try to look honest. Nonchalant.

    He’s taking the piss now. How long can it possibly take? You should just leave.

    Wait. Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face. He’s yours now isn’t he? It’s sweet that he wants to protect his ex by not letting her see you together. Considerate really, that he’s made you wait outside.

    But couldn’t he have guessed she’d be here? The Bionic Woman herself? Before he got you to drive him and his stupid bicycle all the way out here?

    Relax! Being uptight only gives her the upper hand. If you’re not careful you’ll cock this one up too, just like he keeps saying.

    But is this how it should be? Waiting outside in the rain like a dog tied to a lamppost?

    You’re not tied to the lamppost.

    What’ll he say when he comes out and sees you’ve gone?

    Just keep walking.

    When he realises he has to make his own way home?

    You’d better hurry - you don’t want him to spot you jogging to the car park. Better run.

    He’s going to be furious. Hah! What wouldn’t you give to see his face when he realises you’ve left him?

    Look at you, you’re sprinting! Your chest’s thumping like it might explode. You don’t care. You’re an athlete too – look at you go! It’s the single woman’s eight-hundred-metre dash.


  27. It's about seven o'clock when she calls. No, forget that.

    It's 19.04.32 when she calls. I have to get this exactly right.

    It's 19.06.17 when she puts the phone down on me. Why do I have to get this exactly right?

    It's 19.06.25 when I try to call her back. It's not a question of being "right".

    It's 19.07.15 when I hang up the phone. It's a question of being precise.

    It's 19.07.18 when I try to call her again. It feels like precision is the only thing I can rely on to stop myself from falling apart.

    It's 19.07.51 when I break the phone against the wall. Everything in my life seems to be broken, except this watch.

    It's 19.15.03 seconds when I pull myself together enough to get out of the house. There must be a way to fix this sort of thing, right?

    It’s 19.23.10 when I realise that I’m walking in the wrong direction for the tube. The problem is that I don’t seem to be that good at fixing things.

    It’s 19.45.18 when I get to the tube. Of course, service is delayed due to construction; is anybody any good at fixing things?

    It’s 20.31.29 when I receive the call on my mobile. Of course it isn’t her, it’s my mates; asking what’s happened and when I’m getting there.

    It’s 20.34.37 when I decide that I will go to the bar after all. As of 19.06.17 this evening, she’s no longer involved in my decision-making processes.

    It’s 21.13.01 when I take off the damn watch and give it to the girl sitting next to me on the couch. This precision is eating me up, I’m done with it; time to fall apart.

    I have no idea what time it is when she smiles at me.

    Paul Currion
    paulcurrion at gmail dot com

  28. 13.11.2007 – my birthday. I’m forty-seven years old today, glued to the mirror counting the lines on my face. I reach eleven, including two deep ones running from either side of my nose right down to the corners of my mouth; quite a few laughter ones around the eyes, plus an unsightly gorge where my chin folds. I’m beginning to feel depressed so when the doorbell rings three times, I run down the stairs two at a time, relieved to escape.

    A smiling lad thrusts a cellophane-wrapped, red-ribboned bouquet towards me. ‘Are you number eight,’ he asks still clutching it. ‘The house is,’ I say, ‘but I’m forty-seven.’ He hands it over with narrowed eyes. He’s puzzled.

    They are from my third husband, a romantic. He’s sent thirteen flowers - six red roses, six pale pink ones and a single white lily. Now I’m puzzled. The red ones I understand, the pink ones probably because he thinks of me as the girlie type, but the white lily, what’s that all about? Has he forgotten that I loathe lilies? They have a sinister air; I associate them with funerals, the putrid smell of undergrowth where vermin lurk, even their petals are powdery suggesting decay. I bin it wondering whether this is a subtle hint, a sign that this marriage is doomed, too?

    A new decade, a new partner – that’s been the pattern of my life but I’m really happy with this one. This marriage has to work. It must.

    We’re having a meal at the new bistro – 123.
    Thank you for the gorgeous flowers, they’re so lovely,’ I say.
    ‘What, even the Lily of the Nile?’
    I’m still puzzled.
    ‘You’ve forgotten,’ he laughs. ‘The cruise down the Nile for Christmas – my treat.’
    ‘ Of course I remember,’ I lie. ‘Great, can’t wait!’

  29. One pound of flour. Three blind mice. Six ounces of butter. Forty days and forty nights. A couple of handfuls of raisins. A country mile. Legs eleven.

    Beethoven’s Fifth. Your first. Secret seven. One, two – look at you. Preheat the oven for twenty minutes. Throw a six, pick up sticks.

    Stir in two spoons of baking powder. It takes two – three’s a crowd.

    The animals went in two by two. Three drops of vanilla, twenty-eight days. Feed a cold, starve a fever … eating for two. A million and one things to do.

    A baker’s dozen. A perfect eight. Hit for six – oh god I’m late.

    Two blue lines. A pinch of salt. Hundreds and thousands. Lucky seven, hard eight. Why can’t I have nine lives?

    One flew over, two’s company, three of a kind, four gospels – one truth. Two loaves and five small fishes. Ten commandants – thou shalt not! Five and dime, six of the best. The magnificent seven. After eight.

    A million miles away. Five spoons of sugar. Half a teaspoon of allspice. One for sorrow, two for joy. Pink for a girl and blue for a boy. Sixteen weeks.

    One stork, two little ducks, three wise men, four seasons, five star. Six of the best, seven wonders.

    Mix ten times, take a quick break. Leave to set before you bake. Line two tins – grease them well.

    Nine months, thirty-nine years. Sing a song of sixpence. Divide the mixture in half, and then in half again. Gently shape with your hands. Glaze with a little milk and sprinkle with sugar.

    Seven days since you left me. Two hours at gas mark six. The rest of my life … Test with a skewer to see if it’s done.

    Half of you and half of me. Ten out of ten.

  30. A friend of my mother’s says the number of hairs on her head are decreasing rapidly, now she’s old. What’s worse she finds odd ones popping up on other sites. Sprouting on her chin, for instance, as if they’ve forgotten where their roots are. Once someone had to pull two out in one week for her! She says if it gets much worse, it’s highly possible she might have a beard eventually and end up as a Bearded Lady. She has it on good authority that you can make a reasonable living that way. It’s also been suggested that if she goes completely bald and the beard flourishes, she might consider a sex change, to liven things up. Personally I could see real problems ahead and strongly advised her against such a course.

    You either love numbers, delight in working with them, or you hate them. They speak a language you don’t understand. Horrid unreliable things, branded on the arms of concentration camp victims in exchange for their names.

    Now take words. For a start, they don’t turn round suddenly and tell you they don’t add up. And look at the wonderful way they react when you put them on paper, mould them for your purpose, voice them, listen to them. Let them charm you, excite you, invite you in. You can play Scrabble with them, do crosswords.

    We simply couldn’t live without words. Imagine if we had to converse in numbers. Could even mathematicians cope without words?

    Of course there are instances when it is impossible to deny that their use is invaluable, such as Clocks, Pin Numbers, security alarms. Then there are Birthdays and telephone calls, for which numbers are merely triggers, keys unlocking the door leading to the ultimate happening which can only be expressed in words.

  31. Well, it is the numbers which play an indispensible part in our day-to-day lives. Dawn to dusk
    From morn to evening, from Sunday to Saturday from our birth to Death, everything is a total
    Sum of numbers. At the end of the day if we sit back and take a stock of how many cups
    Of coffee we have had, how many times we have uttered lies, how many phone calls we
    have deliberately skipped, we would be surprised to know the significance of numbers.

    Why, the impossibility of numbering certain things is unique. Can we count the celestial
    Objects, can our eyes peruse the starry sky? Can we number the tiny atoms? Can we count the
    Shells in the battlefield, can we count the number of soldiers, their soldiers in all human wars
    Waged so far? Is it possible to account the rifles and the congealed thews and sinews from
    The blood flowed and frozen? Can we count the number of grains harvested? Can one
    Number the rice in cooked rice ? If only we are conscientious enough to be
    determined to count how many were fed by us at the end of the day, how much of charity
    We made at the end of the week , how much spent on luxury, on wastages, we unmistakably
    Would rectify ourselves. Some of us are self entered and our vanity zooming, the number of
    flights we made, the number of bank books in our possession, the number of shares we own,
    figure in our minds uppermost. Day by day, sinners are numberless.
    The number of love letters penned by a thought less girl to a boy not even ascertaining
    Whether the boy was in love with her, indeed went beyond calculation that she roughly
    Compiled two volumes, still overflowing.


  32. Carol has a necklace of numbers. The concept reminds her of the sweet necklaces she wore as a child, sucking them off slowly one by one. Only, of course, she isn't losing sweets but gaining days.

    Today's number on her necklace calendar is 26; mentally it hangs just above her missing breast. It's 26 days since the consultant told her she didn't have long. But how long is not long? She isn't sure whether to expect a tiered necklace of months, stretching the metaphor but it feels apt, or a choker of weeks.

    Still, it's already longer and heavier than she first expected. Not only has she lived more days than she feared, but many are also full days; filled with doing and people. But, of course, they say it's best to fit that sort of thing in while one can.

    Carol tries to pretend the vagueness of time doesn't matter, focus instead on the numbers' significances. So 16 was the number of days before her daughter Leah's A levels, while 24 was her own bent back and weak knees. That was also the day Carol nearly started screaming in the middle of the supermarket: Why me? What have I done? It's not fair!

    Invert 24 and she gets her next birthday: 42, assuming she makes it that far. The number 80 is her figure before chemotherapy and surgery and, if she doesn't lose count by then, 119 is the number of pounds she spent on a silly, frivolous scarf simply because it was pretty and the cost didn't seem to matter any more.

    But how long will it be before pain stops her being able to count? And how long before the numbers cease to exist? It feels like some sick game of fortune. Pick a number, any number...

    Sarah James

  33. This comment has been removed by the author.

  34. If you think about it, your daily life is all about routines. Little things you do every day that mark your time. I have routines through out the day (it seems I follow them almost religiously).

    In the mornings, I go through a check list; I make sure that I have the following: Kleenex (enough to last for the day, taking into account my horrible allergies), gum, keys, watch, glasses cloth, Vicks inhaler, lip balm, wallet, and buss tickets.

    I make sure that I’ve taken the following: Cold FX (it is flu season after all and one can’t be too careful), Reactine for my allergies, sinus pills.

    Before I leave for work, I make sure that I have the book I’m reading for the day, my sinus pills, whatever fragrance I’m wearing for the day (one must smell good at all times).

    During work, I am fanatical about the environment around me. I make sure that my desk always looks clean (you never know when a client may stop by). I try to put things in their place for the day. I make sure to get away from my desk for at least half an hour (though I am not too good about this lately.)

    At night, before bed, I make sure I will have everything I will need for the next day: Kleenex (enough to last for the day, taking into account my horrible allergies), gum, keys, watch, glasses cloth, Vicks inhaler, lip balm, wallet, bus tickets, the book I’m reading for the day, my sinus pills, whatever fragrance I’m wearing for the day. I gather them together in a pile.

    Right before sleep claims me, I make sure the door is locked (even though the husband already locked the door).

    Jamieson Wolf

  35. Countless arguments of breathtaking futility for as long as we’ve lived under one roof.

    101 heartfelt I love you’s during our final month together.

    94 warm, tender kisses exchanged the weekend before last.

    87 tantalisingly secretive, all knowing looks across the crowded office last week.

    74 ecstatic, heart stopping moments just thinking of our future together since Monday.

    61 autumnal walks through leaf strewn, frost dappled parks this season.

    53 telephone calls to family and friends on our final bill, informing all of our happiness.

    45 minutes notice before whisking you away for the final Christmas surprise of your life.

    32 used cinema ticket stubs lovingly retained within our own private scrapbook.

    21 anonymous text alerts breaking the silence of yesterday’s final, peaceful evening.

    13 intimate restaurant meals between this year’s birthdays.

    10 unexplainably large cash withdrawals from our joint account on this morning’s statement.

    7 sets of birthday cards we exchanged whilst a couple.

    3 sudden, separate confessions of recent indiscretions forcefully depriving me of every single reference point anchoring my life.

    2 minutes I gave you to pack your things and leave.

    1 final, unconvincing attempt at an apology.

    I’m not sure how long it took for the pure white rage to dissolve, clearing my clogged filters of perception. Dedicated as I may be, your continued presence disturbs me. A singular act of betrayal is one thing; living a lie, using me as your puppet changes everything.

    My hand print throbs a deep, angry red across the contours of your once flawless throat. I forcibly kept it there for sixteen minutes, until completely convinced the final breath escaped your blue lips. Upon punching the three nines, informing the operator of your circumstances and location, I gave myself five minutes to flee.

    I love you. Thanks for the memories.

  36. The problem, as I see it, is that we haven’t been paying attention. You’re doing a few things at once, perhaps, and not really paying attention as you unload the drier. Before you know it, you’re left holding that one, obligatory Odd Sock.

    Various suggestions have been put forth concerning the whereabouts of this vast number - undoubtedly zillions - of socks that have, by some freak of nature, escaped from driers worldwide. One advert I recall from my childhood suggested that the socks somehow teleported themselves to some kind of Odd Sock Planet, and we saw an artist’s impression of all the Odd Socks partying away, free from all earthly concerns.

    This wasn’t concrete enough for me, I’m afraid. I need a bit more than “somehow”. I’m completely open to the idea of such a planet existing, but my mind craves explanations.

    I think I have now made an advance towards the truth of the matter, and this is how it happened: upon pulling a large bath towel out of the drier, I noticed a lone grey sock attached to it. “I’d better detach that before I fold the towel,” I thought to myself, “or it’ll fall on the floor and/or get lost”. I blinked as I reached down for the sock. And lo! When I reopened my eyes, it was gone! Gone, I tell you.

    Consider the significance of this observation. The socks do not disappear while they are in the drier, as previously believed. They make their escape as we are unloading the drier, perhaps energised by the spinning, or intoxicated by the sheet of Bounce. All we have to do is begin to be vigilant as we perform this task. We have not been concentrating. All around the world, socks are escaping - and it doesn’t need to happen...

  37. One of the things I found most difficult at school was learning my tables. I was OK on my five and eleven times. I could even work out my twelve times by taking the last answer from each of the others. But the one I really struggled with was the nine times table. For years I tried to master it and eventually, having scraped through my exams, I ceased to care, assuming I would no longer need to bother with such things.

    I gave the matter no further thought until I became a parent and my two boys started to attend school. Tables were firmly back on the agenda. The teacher would set the children a different table each week as homework, and to make it worse she encouraged them to enlist the help of Mum or Dad. Once more tables began to take over my life. Night after night, week after week, they would be falteringly repeated over and over.

    Then, after many months, my son came home from school one day, enormously pleased with himself and informed me he knew all his tables by heart.

    “All of them,” I demanded disbelievingly. “What - even your nines time table?”

    “Oh, yes,” he replied. “Especially those – they’re easy peasy. You just go up on the left and down on the right,” and he showed me how it worked on a scrap of paper he was carrying around in his pocket.

    I became suddenly excited at the notion that there had been a pattern all along. The puzzle had been easily solvable and no one had ever thought to tell me. I was indignant on behalf of the young girl I had been all those years ago. I begrudged the long hours I had wasted struggling to memorise those elusive numbers.

  38. 1. Day in a life. 2. Soon to know the results of any kind of test. 3. The perfect number. 4. All time, how long you said you'd love me. 5. Gold rings, well its nearly Christmas, it must be because there are lots of adverts for it. 6. Feet under if I don't stop drinking soon. 7. Days in week, because he made it that way. 8. After dinner mints. 9. lives, if I'm lucky. 10. Perfect, just perfect. 11. Players on one side of the ball. 12. Days of Christmas, are you excited yet by the thought of all those presents waiting under the tree just for you? 13. For supper, not a good start. 14. Points to end a war. 15. Minutes of fame, that everyone deserves. 16. Sweet and never been kissed. 17. Apollo, Eugene A. Cernan, the last man on the moon 18. Six hundred sixty six, the number of the beast. 19. Angels over hell. 20. Twenty vision, its obvious with hindsight. 21. 10101, just because it looks so good in binary. 22. What a Catch. 23. Chromosomes in a sperm. 24. Hours from Tulsa. 25. Christmas Day, is it me or is a theme developing? 26. Letters in the alphabet. 27. The ideal age to die. 28. Days in February, except in a leap year. 29. Days in a February in a leap year which by a startling coincidence happens in 2008. 30. XXX Rated. 31. Planes of Existance 32. Black squares. 33. And a third, LP's for us oldies. 34. years since the Bahamas became independent, do you notice a hint of desperation creeping in? 35. Minutes spent typing this note. 36. Inches in a yard, nice and easy. 37. Degrees, Body temperature in Celsius. 38. Ways to win and argument. 39.

    Jim Barron

  39. “What is your favorite number, and what does it mean to you?”

    (a random sampling of answers from a recent poll taken by renowned statistician County McCountington)

    13: It’s my birthday, so I guess it’s lucky for me.

    8: The hard way, a sucker’s bet but it’s fun when it pays off. And I always buy one for the dealer.

    666: Reminds me of my first boyfriend.

    Number nine: Number nine, number nine

    9: Two words: Love. Potion. You wanna try some?

    411: Because I loves me some gossip.

    27: It’s the age I always wanted to be, and turned out to be the best year of my life (I met my wife that year).

    Zero: The amount of patience I have for people like you on the street, asking me ridiculous questions.

    21: Blackjack!

    Pi: Because it goes on and on and on.

    742: Number of days my Johnny’s been sober. Sunrise makes 743, Lord willing.

    Fish: I’m a surrealist.

    14: It was the number of my jersey in Little League.

    6060842: Cause “Jenny I got your number” … no wait, that was 8675309 . Dang, what is it …I’m waiting for you. Yeah, that’s it.

    13,972.83: Amount of interest I paid on a seven-thousand dollar car. I’ve learned a lot since then, and if it ain’t cash, it ain’t happening.

    26: Number of pills I have to make sure my husband Lenny takes every day, but not at the same time.

    17: It was my grandma’s favorite number.

    24: Dammit, Chloe! You have to trust me!

    57: My dad’s name is Heinz.

    One more than what you have: Because I’m better than you.

    300: A perfect game of bowling.

    Undetectable: It means the meds are still working and I’ll get to see my nieces and nephews graduate high school.

    bob [at] bobzyeruncle [dot] com

  40. She gets in the car and heads for the hotel. Its time isn’t it? Well past time, more than 9 years past. She parks the car, dials her husband’s cell number knowing that he’s in a meeting. She leaves a message and hangs up the phone. She opens the glove box and puts her cell phone in it and closes it.
    She pulls up to the valet just as the transport for the airport is pulling in. She walks to the concierge. He indicates that she should proceed to the transport. She is joined by several others and they head quickly to the airport. She feels like a school girl and glances over her shoulder periodically as if she may get caught for doing something she shouldn’t.
    It’s a short flight and upon landing they are met by the guide who leads them to the bus.
    She glances at her watch and furrows her brow. No doubt he’s gotten her message and he’s probably not happy about it. But c’est la vie, she laughs. They speak French in Canada don’t they?
    It’s a short ride to Niagara Falls and suddenly she is breathless. The sound and the sight of it all! She is wide eyes as she walks all around and looks about her. The trip down behind the falls makes her feel small like a child and full of wonder, amazed and overwhelmed and the roar of the falls that close is louder than she had ever imagined.
    The group is brought to a restaurant that overlooks the falls. They are led to their seats. At the table are 12 yellow roses and as she is escorted she sees a small wrapped package from Tiffany’s. Very perplexed she sits down and reads the card.
    “Happy 40th Birthday My Love! “


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