Another hour, another semi-story! Spark word was travel, here is the resultant mess. Again, only written in an hour, so please forgive any mistakes, but enjoy!

“I’m bored,” said George, kicking the back of his mother’s seat. “I’m bored. I’m bored. I’m bored. I’m bored.  I’m bored bored bored bored -“

“Ok George, keep your pants on,” said Liz, turning her attention again to the satnav. “It says left here,” she told her husband. 

‘It isn’t,” he countered. “I checked the route before we left and we turn off at the next junction.”

“Well, the satnav says…”

‘The satnav’s wrong!” snapped Greg. He’d been driving for a little over three hours now, and was starting to feel the effects of the second cup of coffee he’d had before they’d left. 

“Mummy, can we turn the radio back on?” asked Phoebe. The radio had been turned off during a particularly heated discussion over temporary traffic lights and whether or not they’d be better going round the back streets. 

“In a minute, darling,” said Liz.

‘Why not now?” chipped in George. “It’s boring in the car. I’m bored, bored, bored, bored -“ 

“Because I said in a minute, darling – it really is left here, this is the turning.”

“It isn’t, I assure you,” said Greg, through gritted teeth.

“Ray-dee-oh,” chanted Phoebe. “Ray-dee-oh, ray-dee-oh…”

George joined in and the two children enjoyed a good 30 seconds of repeating the same word over and over, until their dad turned round furiously and bellowed at them for the love of God to shut up. They shut up.

It had been that turning. Shit.

They drove in silence.

At the motorway service station, and after a well-deserved trip to the bathroom, Greg was feeling more optimistic. Yes, they were now on a slightly different route, but as long as they carried on going south, that would be all right. Where was Dover? South. Where was he heading? South. All fine, he consoled himself. What’s a scenic route anyway? The ferry didn’t leave until the next day, and they had no rush to be in heir bed and breakfast. As long as he went in vaguely the right direction, he’d find it, eventually.

Liz came over to where he was sitting, holding Phoebe’s hand. Phoebe was clutching a bag of crispy M&Ms  – the kind that no one else liked – and singly softly to herself. 

“Have we got the next part of the journey worked out?” she asked, then stopped. “Where’s George?” she asked, her voice pitched higher than usual.

“He’s with you,” said Greg, then realised the idiocy of the statement, for George was not with Liz.

“Is he though?” shrilled Liz. “Look at me, Greg, how many children am I currently holding, eh? How many?”

“One,” said Phoebe helpfully. Greg shot her a murderous glance.

“That’s right Phoebe, I am holding one child. Tell me Greg, how many children do we have again?”

“Two!” squealed Phoebe, delighted to help her mother out yet again. 

“Right again, Phoebe, we have two children, Greg. One, two. I take Phoebe to the toilet; that’s one child; you take George to the toilet; that’s two. How hard is that?”

“Well, he can’t have wandered far,” said Greg, beginning to panic a bit. “We’re on a motorway. It’s not like he’s got out onto the road…”

‘I’m not worried about him walking out onto the motorway!” screeched Liz. “I’m worried about him being taken by someone!”

“Why would someone take George?” asked Phoebe. “Do they want him for something?”

Liz was saved from answering by the tugging on her sleeve. 

“Hello mummy,” said George. “Who wants to take me?”

“No one wants to take you,” said Liz.

“Mummy, why are you crying?” he asked.

“Because I’m happy,” explained Liz through her tears. 

“That doesn’t make any sense mummy,” said Phoebe, confused. 

“It’s something grown-ups do,” said George, with an air of great knowledge. “Daddy’s done it too.”

“Have I?” said Greg.

“Yes, daddy, don’t you remember, it was when you were on the phone that time to the credit card people -“ 

“Ok!” said Greg, making as much noise as he could. “Who wants to go and buy a doughnut?”

“Me!” said Phoebe and George.

“I don’t want a doughnut,” said Liz in a dangerous voice. ‘I want to hear about the time daddy cried because he was happy.”

Back in the car, George and Phoebe were tucking into their doughnuts. The radio was playing and the mood, in the back at least, had lightened. In the front of the car, the mood had considerably dipped.

“I said it was that turning,” said Liz, for about the fifteenth time. 

“And I said I’m sorry,” said Greg, again, for about the fifteenth time. 

“Good thing we can afford a trip to France, isn’t it,” said Liz.

Greg gripped the steering wheel.

“I told you we’d talk about it later.”

“£60,000, Greg!” 

“I know how much it is,” he said, staring intently at the road.  

“That’s a lot of money,” piped up George. 

“Isn’t it just,” said Liz. “We could have gone to Disneyworld with all that money – would you like to go to Disneyworld?”

“Yay!” said George and Phoebe together. 

“Or would you rather play silly spinny round games?”

“No, I’d rather go to Disneyworld!” said George. 

“See, Greg,” said Liz, “even a six-year old child can budget better than you can.”

“Shut up,” muttered Greg. ’Shut up, shut up…”

“Mummy,” said Phoebe, out of nowhere, “where are we going?”

“To France,” Liz answered shortly.

“Oh right,” said Phoebe. Curiosity satisfied, she went back to licking jam off her fingers and humming.  

‘To a charming little village called Roulette -“ Liz continued.

“I said shut up!” shouted Greg thumping the steering wheel. 

“Why did the car hooter, daddy?” asked George. “Is it broken?”

“I bet it is!” said Phoebe, with real hope in her voice, She had always wanted to break down and be towed away by a big truck.

“Do you bet it is, Greg? I bet daddy bets it is, too! Come on daddy, what do you bet?”



More free writing from the Bromley group. I may have got some 80s references wrong, but we only had an hour, so don’t sue me!

As the last strains of Wham’s Freedom faded away on the dansette, Anastasia picked up the needle and placed it at the beginning of the track.

“I don’t want your freedom…” crooned George Michael for the fifth time that morning.

“He’s gay,” said Nina, flicking through a magazine. She was sprawled on her bed, engrossed in Just Seventeen, and bored of Freedom by George Michael.

“No he’s not!” said Anastasia, hotly.

“He is,” continued Nina. “Andrew Ridgeley is his boyfriend.”

“Never!” gasped Anastasia. She picked up a cushion and threw it at her older sister. There was only a year between them, but Nina acted like she was at least five years older. At 15, she had entered the awkward stage of her adolescence where she huffed and puffed a lot, and wore too much makeup. 

Anastasia was 14, and was firmly convinced she was going to marry George Michael. Her middle name was Michaela, and her patronymic was George. It was too much of a coincidence. 

“And anyway,” said Nina, “it’s time for my record now.” She picked up the copy of The Killing Moon by Echo and the Bunnymen and made a move towards the dansette. 

“Nah huh, no way.” Anastasia was prepared to stand her ground. “Not until you take it back.” 

“Take what back? That he’s gay? Because he is gay, he’s the gayest gay that’s ever gayed.”

Anastasia felt tears prick her eyes. She was about to say something cutting back, when Nina just shoved her aside and put her record on. 

“Now this,” said Nina, over the plaintive singing, “is music.”

Later that night, Anastasia lay in bed, wide awake. George Michael wasn’t gay. Nina was making things up. Just like her, thought Anastasia bitterly. Ever since she had snogged Owen Holliday at the disco, Nina had been a different person. Crueller. More dismissive of her little sister. More ‘knowing’. 

She and Nina had done everything together. They had moved from the Soviet Union together, learnt English together, tried the New Romantic look together, and now everything was changing. It wasn’t fair. How dare Nina come in with all that ‘George Michael is gay’ rubbish, and expect Anastasia to believe it? How did Nina know? Just because she had kissed a boy, it didn’t make her an expert in all things sex. 

And she had changed how she looked. Gone were the days of the Tippex across their noses – that had been a disaster, conceded Anastasia. They had been trying to emulate Adam Ant, and all that resulted was a bright red stripe on their faces as they had scrubbed away at the liquid corrector. Nina now lined her brown eyes with lots of eyeliner, and smothered her face in white powder. She had bought some black lipstick – black lipstick! – At Miss Selfridge a few weeks ago. She painted every nail a different colour, using the free samples you could get in Woolworths. Nina was changing, and Anastasia didn’t like it. Anastasia didn’t like it at all.

At the same time, Nina was also lying in bed, eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling. God, she thought, what a day. There had been a massive row over whether or not George Michael was gay – which he soooo was – and their father had come in and shouted at them. They, in turn, had shouted at him, and then he had decreed that pocket money was now cancelled until further notice. There would be no new records from Woollies on a Saturday. He even threatened to take the dansette out of their room. 

No one understood her, thought Nina. How could they? Anastasia was a baby. She didn’t know anything about sex at all. Unlike me, she thought, with a smugness that radiated throughout her body. I do. I’ve kissed a boy. Twice. 

She didn’t reflect on the fact that the first time she had kissed Owen Holliday, their braces got stuck together and they had to wriggle their faces apart, or that the second time, she had had to wipe the dribble from off her chin. She had done it. She had kissed a boy. She was a woman. 

Poor Anastasia, she thought pityingly, not knowing what love was, or what sex is. She was still wrapped up in George Michael, and schoolwork. She was just a child. Imagine thinking you’re going to marry a pop star! Nina let out an involuntary snort at the pure childishness of it.

“You awake?” called out Anastasia softly, upon hearing the snort. There was no reply. Then, “yes,” conceded Nina after she had finished her internal debate over whether or not to answer.

“Me too,” said Anastasia.

“I realised,” said Nina, in the bored drawl she sometimes used. 

Anastasia propped herself up in bed and looked over at her sister. Nina was still lying there, gazing at the ceiling. 

‘Do you think he meant it?” asked Anastasia.

Nina sat up.

“Do I think who meant what?”

“Dad. When he said he’d stop our pocket money.”

“Dunno.” Nina shrugged. “Probably. You know what he gets like.”

“Yeah,” said Anastasia. She knew what he got like.

They were silent for a while. Then Anastasia said “what’s it like?”

Nina rolled over so she was facing her.

“What’s what like?”

“Kissing,” said Anastasia. ‘I’ve never done it before.”

“Oh that,” said Nina, as if it was passé. “It’s ok. I’ve done it twice you know.”

Anastasia hugged her knees. 

“Have you?” she squealed. “With Owen? Both times?”

“Yep,” said Nina proudly. 

“Are you…” Anastasia made some gesture, but in the dark, Nina couldn’t quite make it out.

“Am I what?” she asked, crossly.

“You know…”

“No I don’t.”

“Are you his girlfriend?” asked Anastasia, a little too loudly. She knew as soon as she’d said it that it had been too loud and ,sure enough, the outline of their father was soon visible in the door.

“Go to sleep,” he said shortly before slamming their door behind him.

The girls didn’t dare talk again, and buried themselves in their duvets, but they couldn’t sleep. They were too excited: Anastasia was excited over Nina’s kissing revelation, and Nina was too excited wondering if maybe she was Owen Holliday’s girlfriend. 

“Are you awake?” whispered Nina after about five minutes had lapsed.

“Yes,” said Anastasia, in an almost inaudible voice.

Again, they were silent for a while until the conversation resumed.

“So,” continued Anastasia quietly, “are you his girlfriend?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

“You’ve kissed him twice,” pointed out Anastasia, “and you’ve written his initials on your pencil case.”

“Mm,” said Nina dreamily.

“Do you love him?”

Nina squealed at this.

“I don’t know!” she said, a little flustered.

“You must do,” said Anastasia, very seriously. “You must know if you love someone. I love George Michael.”

“That doesn’t count.”

“Yes it does!”

“Have you ever met George Michael?”

“No, but -“

‘You can’t love someone unless you meet them. What if it turns out he likes stuff you don’t like? Or he smells? Or,” Nina finished slyly, “that he’s gay.”

Anastasia picked up her cuddly rabbit and threw it at Nina.

“He’s not gay!” she said furiously, and again, they both knew that had made a mistake because their father reappeared in the doorway.

He spoke to them in Russian, which meant he was getting really angry. When they had first moved over, he had impressed on them the importance of speaking their new language. Even at home, he had said, when you are playing, you must speak English. The fact that he was speaking Russian meant that he was really annoyed. 

“Sorry daddy,” said Anastasia, and Nina soon followed suit.

He harrumphed. “Sleep now,” he said in English. 

The door closed. The girls lay in darkness.

“I miss mum,” said Anastasia. 



I’ve recently joined a writing group in Bromley, that meets on a Saturday morning. It is, of course, my New Year’s Resolution (By the way, happy new year!) to write A Heck of a lot more than I did last year. So this group is really good. We meet for an hour of free writing, based on a spark word (we then spend the next hour reading out our work and drinking tea, but that’s by-the-by. The important thing is the hour of free writing). So (hopefully) this will become a weekly thing, where I can post my free writing. I’ve been to two groups, so there’ll – gasp! – be two entries from me today! I’ll update next Saturday with more free writing, but in the meantime, enjoy my work on the spark word ‘determination’.

“Hello! And welcome again to Smash It! The recording smashing programme that has smashed more records than, well, any other. And we’ve got a brilliant show lined up for you today, haven’t we, Sue?”

“That’s right Andy,” said Sue, sashaying down through the audience to join her co-host on stage. “Today we’ve got Jonathan, who’s going to smash the record for the most jumping jacks in 30 seconds…”

The camera panned back to Andy, who smoothly took over.

“We’ve got Rachel and Chinaza, who are going to sing Danny Boy as many times as they can in one minute…”

“Then for our grand finale,” – back to Sue again –  “we’ve got the dogs of Leytonstone Police Station, who are aiming to pop more balloons than any canine can. Like I say, a brilliant show.”

“But first,” said Andy, looking solemnly into the camera, “is a story of bravery and resilience. The ladies of the Buxwell WI have been making jam for more than 50 years. But when their hall was faced with closure, they rallied round in support of one another.” The camera zoomed in on Sue’s face. She was nodding, and looking suitably grave. 

“But Andy, is that all?” asked Sue in mock surprise. She knew damn well it wasn’t all. God, she hated Andy. Hated how he got more screen time than she did. Got more fan mail than she did. Got more money than she did. She hated how she was little more than his foil.

“No, Sue,” chuckled Andy. “There was a fire at the hall, during one of the meetings, where six members had to be hospitalised for smoke inhalation.”

“Mm,” said Sue, nodding thoughtfully again. 

“Then when one of the members was being treated for smoke damage, a tumour was found in her left breast.”

She hated how he said ‘breast’. 

“I visited Buxwell,” said Andy, and – was it her imagination? – Or did he emphasise ‘I’ just a little too long? “To see how the preparations for today’s show were coming along. Let’s go and -” 

“Smash it!” Sue shouted dutifully. 

The audience had also shouted ‘smash it’ at the same time, but they sounded markedly more enthusiastic. 

As the back story of the Buxwell WI played on the screen, Andy went over to the ladies’ society, ostensibly to check if they were ready, but Sue knew it was just so he could charm the pants off them. 

The giggling and going she could hear from the corner of the studio where they were to smash the record for cake decorating seemed to imply that he was doing his usual. 

“And that’s all from me in Buxwell,” came over the speakers. Andy looked at the WI – all simpering and rosy-cheeked – and winked at them.

“That’s my cue to leave,” he said and deftly wove his way back to the sofa, where he could see Sue was glowering at him. He didn’t care. Let her glower. He was going to leave this crappy little show anyway, when the time was right, and settle in his spiritual home of Hollywood. He saw himself giving awards at a lavish ceremony; presenting America’s top reality programme;, being interviewed on the red carpet. Well, he would say modestly, I owe it all to a little place called London, and a little show called Smash It! 

Sue brought him out of his reverie by nudging him discreetly, but sharply. 

“Yes Sue, thank you,” he said instantly, all trace of daydreaming gone, and back to being the consummate professional. For all his disdain of Smash It!, it did bring home the bacon, a lot of bacon, and he knew he was lucky to have it. One poor sod from his art college days had been reduced to the gambling graveyard slot on Channel 5. 

Andy proceeded to the centre of the studio, where there was a mock-up of a country kitchen. The Buxwell WI were already there, laying out their sheets of royal icing out and dusting their rolling pins with flour. 

The unsmiling man from Guinness was there too. Every record that they smashed on Smash It! had to be independently adjudicated and monitored, and there was a dedicated team from Guinness who took it in turns to ensure that everything was above board.

Today it was Ben, who looked really grumpy, but was actually very nice. Sue had been for a drink with him and some of the production staff after the end of the last series. She quite fancied him, in truth be told, but he was married, bad luck. And married to a man as well, worse luck. Nothing ever seemed to go right for her, thought Sue bitterly, as yet again, Andy was centre-stage and she was left to sit on the sofa and smile inanely for the audience.

“Ready…” Andy was goading the audience into saying their beloved catchphrase. “Get set…”

“Smash it!” squealed the audience in delight. 

The hallowed stop watch was produced and the Buxwell WI sprung into action. They had to cover 124 cakes in two minutes to level the record set by some tortured baker in Missouri in 2005, but who wants to level a record when you can smash it instead?

The ladies worked furiously, each determined to outdo the others. They all wanted to look good for the cameras. Mrs Cudham had warned everyone that “the camera adds 10 pounds”, so many were wearing black, or vertical stripes, in the hopes of appearing thinner. The make-up team had worked miracles though: Mrs Gadsby looked almost pretty. Andy surveyed the ageing ladies with something erring on disgust. He knew they had all tarted up for him, and he almost loathed them for it. Foul old things, he thought, as he cheerfully egged them on, shouting encouraging words and sticking his thumb up at them every so often. 

The whistle blew and the challenge ended. The ladies stood panting to one side, whilst Ben totted up the number of cakes they had managed to cover. 132! A new record!

“Ladies, I’m pleased to say you smashed it!” Andy held the liver-spotted hand of Mrs Cudham and raised it in the air. “A new world record, today on Smash It! You know what this means…” he ended, a coy twinkle in his eye.

‘That means you get added to our Wall of Fame,” said Sue, coming over off the sofa to join Andy, a polaroid camera in one hand, plastic medals in the other. 

“Not only that, Sue, is there anything else?”

“Yes Andy! You also get a medal for smashing it!” Sue began looping the striped ribbons over the ladies’ necks, as Andy snapped away with the polaroid. At least, thought Sue, I’ll be in the picture when it goes on the wall.

The photo began to develop, and as soon as the shadowy figures started to materialise, Sue took it from Andy and pinned it to the Wall of Fame. He’d managed to take the photo at such an angle that her hands were visible, but nothing else. Bastard. When she’d taken the photo, he’d managed to include himself in every one.